Campaign Finance

Colorado Mom Sued Over Newspaper Ads Encouraging Voter Turnout in School Board Election

Colorado's campaign finance laws are "rife with abuse."


Yesterday, not coincidentally the 

Get local moms out of politics!
Institute for Justice

6th anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the Institute for Justice (IJ) filed the case of Tammy Holland v. Wayne W. Williams in federal court. Holland is a mother and private citizen active in her local community of Strasburg, Colorado, and Williams is Colorado's secretary of state. 

At issue are the two civil complaints brought against Holland by school board officials over two newspaper ads she bought, which urged the members of her community to educate themselves about the candidates up for election to the town's school board and to get out and vote. She did not advocate for or against any particular candidate. But because she had not registered as a "political committee," two complaints were filed against her, beginning her unwanted and expensive quest to defend herself against frivolous and politically-motivated attacks on her freedom of speech and right to participate in the political process. 

In a press release from IJ, Chris Dobrogosz writes that "a single email to the secretary of state can trigger full-blown litigation," that defendants have "no right to a public defender," and that there is no government oversight for a system "rife with abuse, with politicians and their allies routinely filing complaints to silence or intimidate those who would dare to criticize them."

Dobrogosz also notes that such abuse is particularly common in Colorado:

Hundreds of individuals and groups have found themselves in the same position as a direct consequence of Colorado's private-enforcement law, under which any person can file a private lawsuit and take you to court by merely alleging that you have violated the state's campaign-finance laws…

IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman said, "Colorado has essentially outsourced the enforcement of its campaign-finance laws to every politico with an ax to grind. That's not just bad policy, it's unconstitutional. Under the First Amendment, nobody should have to fear being sued by their political opponents merely for expressing their opinion on the issues that matter most to them."

The current system in Colorado is so egregious that even Secretary of State Williams, the defendant in Holland's lawsuit, has said the "current scheme allows frivolous and litigious complainants to potentially violate the free speech and due process rights of those seeking to lawfully participate in political discourse."

Since well before Citizens United, we at Reason have written about however well-intentioned the architects of campaign finance laws claim to be, such laws always benefit incumbents and are unnecessaryhypocritical, and unconstitutional. It just seems that Colorado's execution of campaign finance "reform" amounts to "Get local moms out of politics!"

IJ gave the case of Tammy Holland v. Wayne W. Williams the Schoolhouse Rock treatment in a pithy and entertaining animated video, which you can watch below.

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  1. on popehat yet?

  2. In a press release from IJ, Chris Dobrogosz writes that “a single email to the secretary of state can trigger full-blown litigation,” that defendants

    The long war of politics, I believe that to the defenders of Campaign Finance Reform, these are features, not bugs.

    1. Process, punishment, etc.

  3. If there’s anything entrenched incumbents in small voter turnout elections hate, it’s people actually turning up to vote.

  4. “Chris Dobrogosz”

    It’s pronounced “freedom!”

  5. Entrenched powerful interests will abuse campaign finance reform laws to silence their political opponents? Wow, never could have seen that coming!


  6. Does it really count as ‘abuse’ when a law is doing exactly what it was intended to do?

    1. Absolutely.

      Does it really count as abuse that we lock up millions of non-violent criminals under the WOD? I think so, even though (I might even say “especially because”) that was the plan.

    2. I believe that some backers of the law were actually so stupid as to believe that all of this wasn’t intentional. They really believed they were “getting the money out of politics”.

      1. ie: some derpbook users, the “people” at Slate, the NYT, pretty much any Democrat, etc.

        1. Facebook people, maybe, but since JournoCorps are one of the main beneficiaries, I’m gonna guess that quite a few knew exactly what the result would be and wanted it for that reason.

      2. Mom Money, 10x worse than Dark Money.

  7. So, according to this, the problem with the private-prosecution system is that these complaints ought to be handled in a more bureaucratic fashion:

    “Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert [said]…”We’ll be responding and defending the suit ? we’re certainly going to defend it,” she said. “But from a policy perspective we certainly understand some of these concerns.”

    “…the Secretary of State’s office is hoping to support a bill that would establish administrative law judges who specialize in campaign finance….

    “”It’s a real weakness of the system,” said Matt Arnold of Campaign Integrity Watchdog, whose group has filed the most complaints in Colorado. “With any other law, the district attorney will prosecute the case and it’s the state enforcing the state’s laws.”…

    “Maybe the way to go is an independent commission”…

    “Luis Toro, the director of Colorado Ethics Watch, a nonprofit group he believes is the third most frequent filer of complaints [Tweeted] “I would expect conservatives to love Colorado’s privatized campaign finance enforcement system”…”But if they want Big Government to take over enforcing campaign finance laws, that wouldn’t be the worst result.””

    1. Yeah, pretty much.

      “The solution to this problem is to expand my bureaucratic fiefdom!” Quelle surpris, non?

    2. So getting this law struck down will be like driving the Necromancer out of Dol Gulder…he’s already preparing to relocate to Barad-d?r.

    3. How is it privatized if she’s being sued by the Secretary of State?

      1. Look, he’s trying to satirize what “conservatives” believe…you can’t hold him to rigid, 100% accuracy, it would cramp his style.

        1. People made of straw don’t fight back.

    4. Matt founded Clear the Bench Colorado and he has been fighting this crap for years. He is awesome. I haz man crush.

  8. But because she had not registered as a “political committee,” two complaints were filed against her,

    Freedom means asking permission and obeying orders.

  9. This is what it takes to prevent the hollowing out of democracy.

  10. The New Republic desperately needs to hire some proof readers.

    “The plot of Dirty Grandpa is so thin that it appears to be have written on note cards thrown at the actors as they walked though each particular scene. ”

    Be have written.

    1. Yeah, everyone knows that’s ‘been wrote’

      1. been done wrote

    2. Oh, be have yourself.

  11. because she had not registered as a “political committee,” two complaints were filed against her

    No, school board officials took it upon themselves to sue her.

    Does Reason have to register as a “political committee” to publicize their names?

    1. Good catch, Rich.

      So, intrepid Reason reporters, what were the names of the two complainants?

      1. Benjamin (“Ben”) Dover and Louis (“Lou”) Bupp.

        1. Don’t forget “Phil” McAvity.

    2. “I am not a committee!” – Princess Leia

    3. Reason Foundation probably already is a political committee

  12. Every law and every regulation is a gun.

    Unlike actual guns, laws and regulations can be pointed at people with impunity.

  13. Wife sent an email to the Parent Teacher Organization mailing list to notify them of an upcoming school board election.

    Figured these were the people who gave a damn, and would probably want to know it was happening and where to vote. No mention of candidates.

    Nope. Just a lot of bitching about her spamming them for political purposes.

    I am glad no one sued.

    1. Figured these were the people who gave a damn,

      No, they are only people who want to APPEAR to give a damn, they actually give less of a damn than a cadaver.

  14. Are there any other states with such a law?

    1. No, we only export or good ideas, like legal weed and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Oh, and Gary Hart , sorry about that America.
      Also, Colorado Springs was the birthplace of the Libertarian Party.

  15. Well what do you expect to happen? Effectively she was criticising politicians, even at that low a level, they all stick together. Can’t have plebs asking too many questions, they might realise that politicians are ALL scum. After all, their actions Kill far more people than Fred West or even all mass murderers put together, all in the name of looking after their own best interests.

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