Way back in the early part of 2006 our little unincorporated neighborhood of about 300 houses in Parker, Colorado was all abuzz over the efforts of two of our neighbors who thought it would be a good idea to annex into the town. After my husband and I studied the facts and talked to our neighbors, we decided we were against annexation for a variety of reasons, the most important to us being the huge sales tax increase we’d be hit with.
So, because we own a printshop and can make signs, we made a couple that said “No Annexation” and “Annexation is a permanent tax increase” and planted them in our front yard.
Our neighbors kept stopping by asking if we’d make some for them, so we did. Pretty soon the neighborhood was filled with these signs and it was pretty clear most everyone held the same opinion that we did.
The annexation was the talk of the neighborhood until June when the Town Council said they’d make their official decision about the annexation at their August meeting. As far as I was concerned, we were just waiting till August to hear what the town was going to do about the petition for annexation. So all was quiet in the ‘hood.
Until July, that is, when six of us, and our printshop, were slapped with a lawsuit by two of our neighbors, the two who were for the annexation. Among other things, they wanted us to “remove all signs and campaign material from sight” and give them the names of everyone we’ve ever talked to about the annexation.
They said we were not in compliance with campaign finance laws and we needed to register as an issue committee. I had no idea what that meant and I’d never even heard the phrase “issue committee” before.
These people live within a block or two of everyone they sued. I was baffled as to why they couldn’t just ring my doorbell, send me an email, pick up the phone, tape a note to my front door — whatever — to tell me they think we’re not in compliance with the laws. They could even send us a letter. After all, they’d sent letters to the entire neighborhood about the annexation — why not send one about campaign finance rules?
And then it hit me. They wanted to shut us up. The litigation was clearly an attempt to intimidate us.
We had no choice but to file as an issue committee despite the fact we didn’t think we were a committee, nor did we think this qualified as a “ballot issue” since it wasn’t on any ballot.
It fell to me to do the paperwork, and let me tell you, it’s no picnic. Many of my questions couldn’t even be answered on the first try by the Secretary of State’s office. It took a ton of time to register as an issue committee and file the financial forms, but after many, many hours of effort, I got it all set up.
During a local news interview, our opponents claimed they only wanted us to have to follow the rules, so you’d think they’d dismiss the suit as soon as we complied with their request, right?
My opinion was — and still is — they wanted us to shut up about the annexation so they refused to dismiss the litigation. They wanted to intimidate and harass us, but they also wanted to send a message to everyone else in the neighborhood.
The problem is, these campaign finance laws let them do just that. While unethical, unreasonable, unconscionable and just downright mean . . . it’s absolutely legal in many states — not just Colorado — for vindictive people to try to shut up anyone who disagrees with them by wrapping them in litigation. And that’s exactly what our two neighbors did to us.
These campaign finance laws need to be changed so no one can try to shut up the people who oppose them. After all, free speech — to me — is the free exchange of differing ideas and the right to voice them without the fear of harassment and intimidation.
What has happened to our society that people are so threatened by an honest difference of opinion that they can file suit against anyone who speaks with an opposing voice?
I think I should be able to stick a political sign in my front yard without my neighbors slapping a lawsuit on me. And I think you should be able to also.
In September of 2006, through a series of lucky coincidences, we were rescued by the Institute for Justice who filed a lawsuit on our behalf. Not against these horrible neighbors, but against the Colorado Secretary of State.
Our attorney Steve Simpson said, “Today in America, to speak about politics you need more than an opinion — you need a lawyer and an accountant. This endless red tape discourages political participation by making it harder than ever to make your voice heard. Political speech and participation is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to protect and that is exactly what Colorado’s law is suppressing. If two people spend more than $200 to distribute fliers or put up yard signs or other such activities that support or oppose a ballot issue, Colorado considers you an ‘issue committee’ and redefines your speech as campaign finance activities. If you do not register and comply with burdensome reporting requirements, anyone with a political ax to grind can sue you for violations of the campaign finance laws.”
Tomorrow I’ll tell you the outcome of our lawsuit against the Colorado Secretary of State, and the day after THAT I’ll tell you about the 20/20 interview and the air date. And finally, the segment that aired October 17, 2008.
Have you ever had your free speech rights stifled? What do you think of campaign finance laws? HAVE you ever even thought about campaign finance laws? When you think of campaign finance laws, what springs to mind?