Parker North, CO Free Speech

Sampson v. Buescher
Silencing Political Speech: Colorado's Campaign Finance Laws Stifle Political Debate

In America, the only thing you should need in order to speak out about politics is an opinion.  After all, political speech and participation is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to protect.

But in Colorado, you need more than an opinion.  To speak effectively about elections in Colorado, you must be prepared to register with the State, track and report all of your “contributions” and “expenditures” and disclose the identities of anyone who contributed money to your efforts.  So if you and a neighbor distribute fliers or put up yard signs that support or oppose a ballot issue, Colorado considers you an “issue committee” and redefines your speech as campaign “finance” activities as long as you spend more than $200.  If you do not register and comply with burdensome reporting requirements, anyone off the street with a political ax to grind can sue you for violations of the campaign finance laws.

The residents of Parker North, Colo., discovered this the hard way.  In the midst of a debate about whether their tiny subdivision of about 300 homes should be annexed into the neighboring town of Parker, the supporters of annexation filed a campaign finance complaint against the six most vocal opponents, and threatened to go after anyone else with a yard sign opposing the annexation.

Individuals should not have to register with the government and comply with onerous regulations in order to talk about politics.  That is why on September 19, 2006, the Institute for Justice filed suit against the Colorado Secretary of State, who is responsible for enforcing Colorado’s campaign finance laws.  The case seeks to vindicate the free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  In September 2008, the trial court concluded that Colorado’s campaign finance laws “had the effect of stifling political speech in violation of the First Amendment,” but upheld them nonetheless.  IJ appealed that ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, which on November 9, 2010, reversed the district court ruling and held that grassroots political groups could not be subject to burdensome campaign finance laws merely for speaking out about ballot issues.

Essential Background


Backgrounder: Silencing Political Speech: Colorado’s Campaign Finance Laws Stifle Political Debate

Client Photo - none available

Client Video

Latest Release: Major Legal Victory for Free Speech; Federal Court Strikes Down Disclosure Laws Imposed upon Colorado Neighbors (November 9, 2010)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

none available

Media Advisory: Federal Appeals Court Hears Important Free Speech Case (November 18, 2009)
Launch Release: Colorado Residents File Federal Lawsuit Challenging Laws That Silence Their Political Speech (September 19, 2006)


Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit: 


September 19, 2006

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado



September 18, 2008: District Court rules that IJ client should not have been sued, but substantially upholds law

Current Court:


U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit



Tenth Circuit Victory

Next Key Date:



Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Disclosure’s Costs: Colorado Court Case and Research Show How Campaign Finance Laws Make Politics an Insider’s Game (November 18, 2009)

Download: Campaign Finance Red Tape

Release: Federal Court Rules Parker North, Colo., Neighbors Should Not Have Been Sued for Speech, But Fails to Stop Future Abuse (September 18, 2008)
Release: Sued for Free Speech: Neighbors Go to Federal Court to Fight Colorado’s Campaign Finance Laws That Chill Grassroots Advocacy (April 15, 2008)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: IJ Scores Major Free Speech Victory for Parker North Neighbor, Liberty & Law (December 2010)

Video: Steve Simpson Discusses Sampson v. Buescher; (November 9, 2010)

Video: Karen Sampson & Free Speech; (December 5, 2008)

Article: IJ Fights on Two Fronts to Free Political Speech in Colorado; Liberty & Law (December 2008)

Article: BARRING CITIZENS FROM POLITICS, New York Post (November 6, 2007)

Release: Campaign Finance Red Tape: “Worse than the IRS!” According to New Study (November 6, 2007)

Article: IJ Takes on Another Speech-Squelching Campaign Finance Law, Liberty & Law (December 2006)

Release: Election Victory Shows How Campaign Finance Complaint Was Just “Politics by Other Means” (February 8, 2007)

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