Free Speech Means Not Needing a Lawyer on Speed Dial Before You Can Voice Your Opinion

It may be hard to believe that in a country that values free speech, someone can be taken to court for simply voicing their opinion publicly. Unfortunately, that can and does happen regularly in Colorado, due to an obscure rule that has outsourced the enforcement of campaign finance laws to the public at large.

This rule was recently used against small town mom Tammy Holland, who faced two lawsuits for running two ads in her local newspaper that called attention to an upcoming school board election. These intimidations lead Tammy to join with IJ in filing a federal First Amendment lawsuit against Colorado’s private-enforcement rule.

As IJ Attorney Sam Gedge said:

“Colorado has none of the safeguards for speakers that are a common part of campaign-finance enforcement in virtually every other state in the country. At every step along the way, the system is built to favor and encourage abusive, meritless litigation.”

IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman pointed out that even the Colorado Secretary of State, the official in charge of administering the private enforcement-system and the defendant in the lawsuit, has called it a system that “allows frivolous and litigious complainants to potentially violate the free speech and due process rights.” Sherman noted:

“Secretary Williams’ criticisms of Colorado’s private-enforcement system are a welcome recognition that this system chills speech and needs to go. In a society that values free expression, nothing could be more dangerous than giving politicians and their allies the power to sue anyone who publicly disagrees with them.”

This isn’t the first instance of misguided campaign finance law blatantly violating freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. In Fountain Hills, Ariz., for example, the local government said state law prohibited a woman from organizing a group of citizens to protest a local bond issue because they were not a properly registered political committee. IJ defended the First Amendment rights of the organizer. After IJ secured a First Amendment victory in federal court, Arizona ultimately amended their campaign finance laws to stop regulating this kind of harmless citizen speech.

Read more about IJ’s First Amendment work here.

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