Campaign finance bullies have plagued Colorado politics for years. The scheme goes like this: sue an opposing candidate, c4, 527 or issue committee, alleging various violations of Colorado’s campaign finance laws. Then watch as their time and money are sucked into oblivion while they deal with seemingly endless administrative law hearings and legal fees.
In order to comply with this complicated and messy system, many groups rely on free or reduced-cost legal services. But thanks to a recent Colorado Court of Appeals ruling pro bono or reduced-cost legal services are “contributions” under Colorado’s campaign finance laws. This means it could become much harder for people to defend themselves against these campaign finance bullies and predatory lawsuits.
The ruling poses such a threat to free speech that the Institute for Justice is getting involved. Paul Sherman, a senior attorney at IJ, is representing a group called Coloradans for a Better Future that spent money in the race for CU Regent back in 2012. Sherman summarizes his client’s predicament in a recent Denver Post editorial:
CBF ran two radio ads: one supporting candidate Brian Davidson; and one opposing candidate Matthew Arnold, who ultimately lost the primary.
What came next was a four-year legal odyssey. Arnold — either personally or through a group he founded called Campaign Integrity Watchdog — sued CBF three times, alleging various violations of Colorado’s campaign finance laws. In an effort to end this harassment, CBF shut down. With the help of a volunteer lawyer, it filed a “termination report” with the Colorado secretary of state. But this simply prompted a fourth campaign finance lawsuit from Arnold, this one alleging that CBF broke the law when it failed to report the value of the volunteer lawyer’s time as a “contribution.”
Clearly, Arnold is someone who is not just a bully but a sore loser as well. Sherman goes on to note:
Arnold’s group alone has filed more than 50 such campaign-finance lawsuits, mostly over trivial errors in campaign finance reports. One recent complaint, for example, demanded that the court assess $36,000 in penalties against a group that misreported two $3 contributions.
And now, one man’s personal vendetta is poised to create a dangerous new precedent that will have far-reaching and unintended consequences.