First Round Victory in Challenge to Colorado’s “Outsourced” Campaign Finance Enforcement

Small Town Mom Cleared of Speech Code Violations

Arlington, VA. – Late yesterday afternoon, the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts ruled Tammy Holland of Strasburg, Colo., broke no law when she took out two ads in her local newspaper last fall. This is a crucial first step in Tammy’s broader federal challenge to Colorado’s unusual campaign finance system, which outsources to “any person” the power to enforce campaign finance laws by suing speakers they dislike.

“The court recognized, rightly, that Tammy did nothing wrong,” said Paul Sherman, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice (IJ), which represents Tammy in both her state and federal lawsuits. “But she shouldn’t have had to face a lawsuit at all. Tammy had to hire lawyers and spend nearly seven months in legal limbo—just for encouraging civic engagement in her community.”

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Tammy’s legal troubles began last September, when she took out two ads in her local newspaper in which she alerted the public to an upcoming school board election and urged voters to familiarize themselves with all of the candidates. For doing so, Tammy found herself sued—not once, but twice—by school board officials.

IJ Attorney Sam Gedge said, “Unlike most states, Colorado has outsourced enforcement of its campaign finance laws to the public at large. This means that, in Colorado, any person can file a private lawsuit and haul you into court merely by alleging that you have violated the state’s campaign finance laws.”

That’s exactly what happened to Tammy, but yesterday’s ruling cleared her of all charges against her. While noting that Tammy’s ads “might be understood to be critical of board policies adopted prior to the election,” Administrative Law Judge Keith Kirchubel ruled that the ads did not contain any language that might trigger Colorado’s campaign finance laws.

“I’m so relieved that the charges against me were thrown out, but nobody should have to go through something like this just for speaking out about politics,” said Tammy Holland. “I’m challenging Colorado’s laws to make sure that this doesn’t happen to me or anyone else in Colorado ever again.”

Abuse is rampant under the existing system, and complaints are routinely filed by politicians or political activists looking to silence or simply distract their opponents close to elections. Colorado’s most prolific filer of complaints has even touted the system as a way to wage “political guerrilla legal warfare” against opponents.

Paul Sherman said, “Under the First Amendment, the government cannot delegate enforcement of its campaign finance laws to every disgruntled politico with an axe to grind. The federal court should strike down this system to ensure that all Coloradans can speak freely without the fear of being sued by their political opponents.”

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