If you haven’t yet, read the background about our free speech lawsuit.
Fast forward through two years of litigation, two years of filling out mountains of paperwork to comply with the campaign finance laws, two years of hearings and meetings, and two years of stress to September 2008 when the judge finally ruled on our lawsuit.
The federal judge said we should not have been sued for our speech opposing the annexation, BUT the ruling did nothing to stop future abuses of campaign finance laws in Colorado or elsewhere. The decision also lets stand the burdensome red tape required under Colorado law for grassroots groups that simply want to speak out about issues on the ballot.
The judge recognized that the two vindictive neighbors who sued us used Colorado’s campaign finance laws to intimidate us: “There can be no doubt that they used the private enforcement provisions to attempt to silence the plaintiffs by the filing of the complaint.”
Those “private enforcement provisions” turn campaign finance laws into a weapon that political operatives can use against their opponents by suing them into silence. The judge made clear the complaint violated our First Amendment rights, but he didn’t go far enough in his ruling. He failed to strike down the private enforcement provisions. That leaves any citizen group that bands together to speak about an issue vulnerable to being sued for their speech by political opponents. Not by the Secretary of State, mind you, but by ANYONE.
In Colorado and other states, any time two or more people join together to speak out about an issue on the ballot and spend more than $200, they must register with the state as an “issue committee.” Then they must file reports that rival IRS forms in complexity, listing all contributions and spending, even on things like yard signs and fliers.
A recent study by campaign finance expert Dr. Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Kansas School of Business asked 255 people to fill out the required registration and reporting forms, and not one participant managed to do so correctly. Each person would have been subject to fines and penalties in real life, just like I was. Like me, participants found the required forms “Worse than the IRS!” and said it would make them less likely to get involved in politics.
The judge said these rules cannot kick in for annexation elections until the issue is put on the ballot. We had been sued and forced to become an issue committee several months before that. The judge held that to turn groups of citizens into “issue committees” before the ballot is set violates our First Amendment rights to free speech and association.
Because of the absurdity of our story, we’ve been interviewed by all the local TV stations as well as national Fox News. We’ve been blogged about all over the place. Here: “When John McCain campaigns in Colorado, I hope that some reporter asks him what he thinks of the Parker Six’s victory and their federal lawsuit.”
And here: “Campaign finance reform is creating an intrusive regulatory regime that’s steadily eroding Americans’ political freedoms.”
And here: “That John McCain sponsored the odious measure known by his name is noted, but the significance of a conservative sponsor is hidden behind his being dismissed as “unconventional”. That President Bush signed it into law is forgiven too easily by assigning his blame to the Supreme Court, which has plenty of blame of its own already.”
And here: “Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chief architect and cheerleader for so-called campaign finance reform, informed the audience that he “would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.”
There have also been oodles of print stories, local and national, including George Will’s syndicated column.
Even when they were written, the horrible McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws were being vilified.
And now, the ABC news show 20/20 wants to tell our story. The working title is “John Stossel’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics.”
It’s not all about us, but our case will be included.
Obviously, all dates and times are subject to change, but tentatively, there will be a short preview on Friday, October 10, with the full show airing on Friday, October 17.
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?