Yesterday, not coincidentally the
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 unnecessary, hypocritical, and unconstitutional. It just seems that Colorado's execution of campaign finance "reform" amounts to "Get local moms out of politics!"