Speaking Out on Reforming Colorado’s Campaign Finance Laws
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
1st Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified 15 December 1791
Abridging the freedom of speech – particularly political speech – has a long and sordid history, as the ruling ‘Establishment’ or entrenched special interests seek to suppress criticism and competition.
In “modern” and “civilized” times, the tools of repressing political speech have “evolved” from the brute force of physically preventing anyone from speaking out to the more subtle and “sophisticated” methods of legislating limits, building bureaucratic barriers, and piling on paperwork for “permission” in order to exercise what is a fundamental right.
A confusing cloud of campaign finance laws in Colorado challenge the Constitution, chill free speech, and curtail civic participation.
On Thursday December 15th, the office of Colorado Secretary of State held open hearings to receive public testimony (chaired by Secretary of State Scott Gessler) on rules changes oriented towards clarifying and reforming Colorado’s unconstitutional campaign finance laws.
A number of people – both supporting and opposing specific rules changes, and/or speaking out more generally on the topic of the impact of campaign finance laws on political speech and civic participation – submitted written comments, showed up in person to testify, or both.
Curiously, the people supporting the reforms to campaign finance rules largely spoke as individuals or as representatives of small, grassroot organizations, while those opposing the rules reforms almost uniformly represented well-established politically-active special interest groups (see below for list).
A common theme emerged regarding the complexity of existing campaign laws, and the resultant cost, burden and difficulty of compliance.
Some people – such as Colorado state senator John Morse – think that’s just “the price of transparency”:
(Video courtesy of Ari Armstrong of Free Colorado)
Organizations opposing rules changes to reform campaign finance laws at the hearing:
- Colorado Progressive Coalition (Hillary Jorgenson)
- Occupy Denver (Chad Kautzer)
- “Colorado Ethics Watch” (CEW, pronounced “sue” – it’s what they do) (Luis Toro)
- New Era Colorado (Chris Getzan)
- Colorado Democratic Party (Martha Tierney)
- Mi Familia Vota (Grace Lopez Ramirez)
- Metro Organizations for People (MOP) (Dawn Riley Duval)
- Mark Grueskin (represents Democrat Party and “Citizens for Integrity” PAC)
Curiously, none of these politically active organizations – NOT ONE – is subject to the same reporting and disclosure requirements that they support imposing on others.
(NOTE: the state Democrat and Republican parties are subject to some campaign finance reporting and disclosure requirements, but differ in some details)
In fact, the Colorado Statesman profiled some of these groups in a pair of articles last year:
Testifying in favor of rules changes to reform campaign finance laws at the hearing:
- Center for Competitive Politics (Allen Dickerson)
- Colorado Republican Party (Ryan Call)
- Coalition for Secular Government (Diana Hsieh)
- Freedom & Individual Rights in Medicine (FIRM) (Paul Hsieh)
- Clear The Bench Colorado (Matt Arnold)
- Mario Nicolais (campaign finance attorney, Hackstaff Law Group)
- and 9 private (individual) citizens
Clear The Bench Colorado director Matt Arnold testifies in favor of reforming Colorado campaign laws
The Revised Draft of Proposed Rules is posted on the Secretary of State’s website, along with written comments submitted in support or opposition. Interested individuals or groups can still submit written comments to the Secretary of State’s office until Friday, 23 December.
Other videos on how Colorado campaign laws adversely impact free speech:
- Campaign Laws Violate Free Speech (Ari Armstrong, at Liberty On The Rocks 8 Dec 2011)
- Hsieh Reviews Harms of Campaign Controls (Diana Hsieh, Liberty On The Rocks 8 Dec 2011)
- Ari Armstrong Testifies at Dec. 15 Campaign Rule Hearing
- Diana Hsieh Testifies at Dec. 15 Campaign Rule Hearing
- Paul Hsieh Testifies at Dec. 15 Campaign Rule Hearing
- Matt Arnold Testifies at Dec. 15 Campaign Rule Hearing
Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts. We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.