Colorado Free Speech

Independence Institute v. Buescher
Stifling Political Speech: Challenging Colorado's Campaign Finance

Nationwide, campaign finance laws, which many hope would be used to “clean up” elections, are instead being widely abused to stifle the speech of those who are unpopular with the political establishment. In Colorado, the Independence Institute, a free market non-profit think tank, faced charges under the state’s campaign finance laws for merely speaking out on statewide ballot referenda.

During the 2005 election season, the Independence Institute, a long-time proponent of lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, commented extensively on Referenda C & D, which it believed would raise taxes and increase government spending. After running a series of radio ads criticizing the referenda, the Institute found itself the subject of a complaint filed with the Colorado Secretary of State claiming that it was not an educational non-profit, but an “issue committee” that was “campaigning” against the referenda and had violated campaign finance laws by failing to register with the State, report all expenditures and contributions, and disclose the identities of its supporters.

Although the complaint was ultimately thrown out as unwarranted, after experiencing firsthand how these laws can be used as a political weapon to stifle free speech and impose steep financial and opportunity costs on dissenters, the Independence Institute filed suit challenging the vague language of Colorado’s campaign finance laws as well as their disclosure and reporting requirements that chill political speech and association. The Institute is also challenging the laws’ requirement that contributors’ identities be disclosed as a violation of individuals’ right to anonymous speech and political participation.

Unfortunately, a Colorado appeals court upheld the law and, in November 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court declined review of that decision.  As a result, nonprofit groups like the Independence Institute continue to be chilled.  But the fight isn’t over—IJ is litigating a separate challenge to Colorado’s campaign finance laws in federal court, Sampson v. Buescher.

Essential Background


Backgrounder: Stifling Political Speech: Challenging Colorado’s Campaign Finance Regulations

Client Photo - none available

Client Video - none available

Latest Release: U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Review  Independence Institute Free Speech Case (November 16, 2009)

Launch Release: Institute for Justice Joins Colorado’s Independence Institute In Legal Challenge To Campaign Finance Regulations (April 6, 2006)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Cert Petition (August 2009)


Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit:


September 26, 2005

Court Filed:


District Court, City and County of Denver, Colorado.



October 12, 2005: Court denied I.I.'s motion for preliminary injunction



December 14, 2005: Court denied the State's motion to dismiss

May 3, 2007: Court denied I.I.'s motion for summary judgement and granted state's motion

Nov. 26, 2008: Court of Appeals affirmed trial court
June 1, 2009: Colorado Supreme Court denied review



November 16, 2009: U.S. Supreme Court declined review

Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: IJ and Independence Institute Ask High Court To Strike Down Unconstitutional Regulation Of Issue-Oriented Organizations (August 31, 2009) none available
Release: Unfree to Speak in Colorado—For Now; Colorado Supreme Court Declines to Hear Independent Institute Free Speech Case (June 10, 2009)
Release: Danger of Disclosure: The Government Tells the World How You Vote & Where You Live (March 4, 2009)


Op-eds, News Articles and Links
Release: Will Colorado’s Supreme Court Protect Free Speech? (January 7, 2009) Article: IJ Appeals Two Cases to U.S. Supreme Court - Fighting for Free Speech; Battling Campaign Finance Restrictions Liberty & Law (October 2009)
Release: Setback for Free Speech: Colorado Trial Court Upholds Vague Campaign Finance Law (May 7, 2007)
Release: The First Amendment vs. Campaign Finance: Colorado Court to Decide Constitutionality of Speech Regulations (January 26, 2007)
Release: Policy Groups May Protect Privacy of Some Contributors Under Colorado Secretary of State’s New Campaign Finance Rules (July 19, 2006) 
Release: Silencing The Media & Public Debate Through Campaign Finance Law (April 25, 2006)




Email Address
Please enter a valid email address

Institute for Justice
901 N. Glebe Road, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22203
Tel 703.682.9320, Fax 703.682.9321
© 1997-2015