IJ Fights on Two Fronts
IJ Fights on Two Fronts to Free Political Speech in Colorado
By Lisa Knepper
Thanks to IJ litigation, Colorado has become a major battleground in the fight to free political speech from campaign finance restrictions. Colorado’s laws, like those in many states, tie up speech about issues on the ballot in a dizzying array of legal requirements and burdensome red tape—making it nearly impossible for grassroots groups and nonprofits to speak out without an army of lawyers and accountants.
IJ achieved a partial victory on behalf of one such group in September, when a federal judge ruled that Karen Sampson and five of her neighbors in the small subdivision of Parker North, Colo., had been wrongfully sued for putting up yard signs, sending flyers and talking with neighbors about opposing the proposed annexation of their neighborhood into a nearby town.
The two lead proponents of annexation had threatened the group with “investigation, scrutinization and sanctions” for campaign finance violations. Those supposed violations amounted to failing to register as an “issue committee” and not filing regular reports that rival IRS forms in their complexity.
The judge recognized that the lawsuit had little to do with enforcing the law and everything to do with shutting the group up. And that’s exactly what Colorado’s campaign finance laws make possible by empowering anyone in the state to sue anyone else for violating the law.
Unfortunately, the judge left in place the very law that made the harassing lawsuit possible, practically inviting similar abuses in the future. Without any legal analysis and ignoring evidence in the case, the court’s ruling let stand Colorado’s complicated regulations that bind even simple grassroots advocacy in red tape.
To fully vindicate the right to speak freely, IJ and the Parker North neighbors are appealing the ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Lisa Knepper is IJ’s director of communications.