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.