By Diana Hsieh
As you might recall from this post, I've suffered under the regulatory yoke of campaign finance law. Now I have a real chance to strike back... and I need your help... by Tuesday!
First, here's the basic story of why I've been subject to campaign finance laws.
In the fall of last year, Ari Armstrong and I published The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception under the auspices of my Coalition for Secular Government. That work was made possible by 63 pledges ranging from $4 to $300 from individuals who support our fight against the "personhood" movement. We did that work because anti-abortion zealots got another "personhood" amendment on the ballot -- Amendment 62. Our purpose was to reveal the full range of horrific consequences of this measure, as well as provide a solid moral foundation for abortion rights. That's something that the traditional leftist defenders of abortion rights can't and won't do, not even with all their millions of donor dollars.
Unfortunately, Colorado law does not permit people to speak freely in elections. I was forced, by Colorado's campaign finance laws, to report all donations and expenditures over $20. For expenditures, I had to report names and addresses of businesses, as well as what I'd purchased. For donations, I had to report the names and addresses of donors, as well as places of work for donations over $100. The reporting was a huge drain on my time, and I was petrified of doing something wrong, and thereby incurring fines of $50 per day. In addition, I was appalled that the state required the publication of private information about donors, particularly given the harassment and violence often perpetrated by anti-abortionists against defenders of abortion rights.
Now, fast-forward to today. Colorado's Secretary of State must revise its regulations on campaign finance as applied to "issue committees" due a fabulous victory for free speech won by the Institute for Justice in the Parker North case. Basically, the Colorado Supreme Court didn't abolish campaign finance for issue committees, but they indicated that contributions and expenditures in the $2000 range should be regarded as "well below" the threshold for reporting. So what has the Secretary of State proposed in response? Well, they're going to have the exact same system, except that the trigger for reporting will be $5,000 in contributions or expenditures, rather than the existing $200 threshold. You can read all the details in in this four-page PDF.
Yikes! I was hoping for something much better, something that would actually enable ordinary citizens to speak out in elections without concern for government regulations. Yet $5000 is still a very, very low threshold, likely to be exceeded by ordinary citizens attempting grassroots activism on some ballot measure. Moreover, once that threshold is met, those ordinary citizens (and their donors) will be subject to the same burdensome and invasive reporting requirements as they are now.
So... what can we do? Alas, we cannot hope to abolish these unjust campaign finance regulations. Colorado's state constitution requires them, and for now, they stand. Here's what our constitution says:
The people of the state of Colorado hereby find and declare . . . that large campaign contributions made to influence election outcomes allow wealthy individuals, corporations, and special interest groups to exercise a disproportionate level of influence over the political process . . . that political contributions from corporate treasuries are not an indication of popular support for the corporation's political ideas and can unfairly influence the outcome of Colorado elections; and that the interests of the public are best served by . . . providing for full and timely disclosure of campaign contributions, independent expenditures, and funding of electioneering communications, and strong enforcement of campaign finance requirements.That's truly awful, and I hope that IJ's work on free speech will soon abolish all such campaign finance regulations. In the meantime, you can help me advocate for the minimal possible speech regulations consistent with our state constitution. How so?
The Secretary of State of Colorado will hold a hearing in Denver on Tuesday, May 3rd about these proposed regulations, and they're soliciting comments from interested parties. I'll be submitting comments, as well as attending in person to speak. (Ari will do so too.) First and foremost, I will condemn campaign finance laws as inherently a violation of free speech rights. Then, recognizing that such regulations are required by our state constitution, I will argue that those regulations should be made as little burdensome as possible. I will propose that only individual contributions and individual expenditures above a certain high threshold -- say $5000 -- should be reported. In addition, only the name and city of donors should be reported, not their home addresses and/or places of work. Such regulations -- although still wrong and evil -- would satisfy the demands of the state constitution while eliminating most of the burden of advocating for or against a ballot measure.
So what can you do? If you live in Colorado, I'd love for you to attend the hearing with me, to speak out in person for greater freedom of speech, and hence, against these proposed regulations. It's 2 pm on Tuesday May, 3 in the Blue Spruce Room (Second Floor) of 1700 Broadway in Denver.
Whether you're able to attend or not, please submit written comments! I'd particularly urge you to do so if you're a resident of Colorado -- or if you contributed to Ari's and my "personhood" paper. Please submit them by 12 pm MT on Tuesday, May 2nd to Andrea Gyger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please reference "8 CCR 1505-6" -- and the "Proposed Revisions and Amendments to the Secretary of State's 'Rules Concerning Campaign and Political Finance'." Also, please cc me!
You need not write anything complicated or long. You only need say (1) that you're opposed to campaign finance laws, including for so-called "issue committees" and (2) that you think that any regulations mandated by the state constitution should be made as minimally invasive and burdensome as possible. If you wish to include further details in support of my proposal, that would be great, but certainly not required. If you've donated to the "personhood" paper, please include that fact, since then you're an "interested party," even if you live outside Colorado.
Thank you, thank you to everyone who chooses to write! If we can make these campaign finance rules less onerous, that won't just be a small victory for free speech in Colorado... it will also eliminate a major exercise of unjust government force against me, personally. And for that, I will be so grateful.