Are Colorado’s “official” judicial performance reviewers violating state election laws?
Colorado’s “official” judicial performance reviewers – the state’s “Commissions on Judicial Performance” and the “Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation” (COJPE) – are charged under state statute to
…establish a system of evaluating judicial performance to provide persons voting on the retention of justices and judges with fair, responsible, and constructive information about judicial performance… (C.R.S. 13-5.5-101)
Although one can certainly argue about whether the commissions, and COJPE, have fulfilled their mandate (Clear The Bench Colorado is among the many critics – including several former judicial performance commissioners – who find the “reviews” or “narratives” produced by the commissions and COJPE actually provide little information of substance to help inform voters), not even advocates of the commissions and COJPE would seriously advance the notion that either is above, or not otherwise subject to, state law.
Yet the commissions, and COJPE – aided and abetted by others within the legal/judicial industrial complex – have repeatedly acted as though Colorado’s elections and campaign finance laws do not apply to them.
Many Colorado voters may remember the massively-funded (approaching or even exceeding $250,000) “Know Your Judge” campaign established to counter Clear The Bench Colorado‘s success in raising voter awareness during the 2010 election cycle. Although the “Know Your Judge” campaign (self-described AS a “campaign”) raised and spent “big money” to influence elections, they did NOT register a campaign committee (a requirement under state law) even though they ran thousands of ads in support of candidates on the ballot. (Ironically, the “Know Your Judge” campaign escaped sanctions for their violations of state law in large part by claiming that their campaign advertisements were a purely “educational effort.” Curiously, the legal-establishment special-interest groups funding the “Know Your Judge” campaign haven’t continued their “purely educational” efforts this year…)
The violations committed by the “Know Your Judge” campaign, blatant and brazen as they were, pale in comparison to the systematic and comprehensive violations of Colorado’s prohibition of electioneering activities perpetrated on an ongoing basis by the commissions and the COJPE in every election cycle.
Colorado election law prohibits
…any electioneering on the day of any election within any polling place or in any public street or room or in any public manner within one hundred feet of any building in which a polling place is located, as publicly posted by the designated election official. As used in this section, the term “electioneering” includes campaigning for or against any candidate who is on the ballot or any ballot issue or ballot question that is on the ballot. (C.R.S. 1-13-714, Electioneering)
Since the “Blue Book” materials include the commissions’ and COJPE’s “Reviews of Judicial Performance” with “recommendations” advocating votes for “any candidate who is on the ballot” for judicial office, the presence of those materials at polling places constitutes a violation of Colorado election law.
As reported by the Law Week Colorado weekly (“ Judicial Branch Critic Files Election Complaint“), the Colorado Secretary of State’s office is investigating a complaint filed by Clear The Bench Colorado Director Matt Arnold noting that
“(COJPE and CJP) are systematically violating the prohibition on Electioneering activities by having their “recommendations” (advocating a vote) for candidates for judicial office (“retention”) placed at polling locations throughout the state.”
by utilizing state (taxpayer) resources to produce and disseminate the electioneering materials, these organizations are violating state law (C.R.S. 1-45-117, State and political subdivisions – limitations on contributions) prohibiting the use of state funds to advocate “in campaigns involving the nomination, retention, or election of any person to any public office…”
Why do we have political appointees (judicial performance commissioners are appointed by the governor, attorney general, state legislators and the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court – the latter seeming to have a conflict of interest) using taxpayer money to tell Coloradans how to vote?
What can you do about it? If you observe a “Blue Book” at your early vote center, mail-in ballot drop-off location or Election Day Polling Place, ask the election judges on site to remove the offending material, and file a complaint of electioneering activity with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office using this simple form: http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/HAVA/files/HAVA_complaint_form_05-15-08.pdf
You CAN make a difference – take a stand for election integrity and against the waste of your tax dollars by government officials trying to tell you how to vote.
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.