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15 August 2012

Campaign Finance Lawsuit: Preliminary Injunction Sought


The Center for Competitive Politics just posted a press release about their filing of a preliminary injunction in CSG's campaign finance lawsuit.  If we win, I won't have to file campaign finance reports while litigation is pending.  (Hallelujah!)

DATELINE: Tuesday, August 14, 2012

CONTACT: Sarah Lee, Communications Director, 770.598.7961

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - The Center for Competitive Politics' (CCP) legal team filed a motion for preliminary injunction late last night on behalf of a Colorado group, Coalition for Secular Government (CSG). CCP asks that a federal judge in Colorado enjoin Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler refrain from forcing CSG to register as an "issue committee" until their constitutional claims can be heard. Otherwise, CSG will be unable to speak until a potentially lengthy litigation has run its course.

Last month, CCP filed its lawsuit on behalf of CSG in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, questioning whether Colorado can force small educational groups to register with the state before writing or publishing philosophical and policy analysis that mentions a state ballot initiative.

The case stems from the efforts of Colorado resident Diana Hsieh. Hsieh, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, organized the non-profit CSG together with her friend Ari Armstrong in order to promote a secular understanding of individual rights, including freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. Because of unconstitutionally vague state laws, confusion as to what constitutes political speech and what is covered under a press exemption, and a refusal by the state to abide by a federal court order, Hsieh and CSG have found it nearly impossible to carry out the activities of a small non-profit group without fear of running afoul of Colorado's complex campaign finance laws.

CCP Legal Director Allen Dickerson hopes the motion for injunction in the case will free the group from the administrative burden of registering as a political group, allowing them to speak freely until their case can be fully considered by the federal court.

"Given the strength of its case, we hope CSG will be allowed to speak unfettered until, and if, a court determines that they must register as an issue committee," he said. "It makes little sense to force them to register - and limit their speech accordingly - only to turn around many months later and tell them they had a constitutional right to speak freely all along."

No hearing on the motion has yet been set.

The Center for Competitive Politics promotes and defends the First Amendment's protection of political rights of speech, assembly, and petition. It is the only organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.
In related news, a federal judge recently struck down some of Secretary of State Scott Gessler's campaign finance rule changes. The Denver Post reports:
A judge on Friday invalidated some campaign finance rules changed by Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Denver District Judge J. Eric Elliff upheld one rule defining what can be considered electioneering communications. But he invalidated a rule that would have capped penalties for some campaign finance violations. He also rejected rules affecting who must file campaign finance reports. ...

One of the invalidated rules said groups only had to file campaign finance reports if at least 30 percent of their spending was for or against a ballot issue. Elliff said the rule would have required issue committees with very little income, most of which is spent on election-related matters, to file reports while groups with huge budgets could spend big on election matters without having to file reports if the expenditures were less than 30 percent of their total spending.
I didn't like that 30% rule: it was poorly-constructed so as to disproportionately burden small groups. So I'm not sad to see that struck down, even though the result is that now we don't have any clear guidance on what counts as the "major purpose" that triggers filing obligations for issue committees like CSG.  That's frustrating.

I'm deeply unhappy that the rules capping fines have been struck down, as unlimited $50 per day per violation fines are downright obscene.  What sane person is willing to wade through pages of confusing and complex campaign finance regulations and then attempt to file detailed reports on expenditures and contributions over $20 — with the threat of thousands upon thousands of dollars of fines for innocent errors looming over them?

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