In a case filed by Ethics Watch, a Colorado administrative judge has ordered Colorado Campaign for Life (CCL) and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) to pay $8500 each in fines to the state and file disclosures of spending and earmarked contributions for mailings that attacked and supported candidates in two Republican state Senate primaries in June 2014.
Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer agreed with Ethics Watch that mailers sent by CCL and RMGO to Republican primary voters attacking candidates Lang Sias and Mario Nicolais and supporting candidates Laura Woods and Tony Sanchez were “electioneering communications” under Colorado law because the two groups spent over $1000 each to contact voters with mailers naming identified canddates in the last thirty days before the primary election. The two groups were fined $8500 each, representing $50 per day from the date disclosures were required (on July 1) through the filing of the suit. [Correction: The fine was $8450 each.]
CCL and RMGO hired a Washington, DC-area law firm to file a federal lawsuit against Ethics Watch and the Colorado Secretary of State to block the hearing, argung that Colorado’s disclosure law is unconstitutional. On December 16, federal judge Robert E. Blackburn allowed the case to proceed in state administrative court, noting that Judge Spencer has jurisdiction to resolve at least some of CCL’s and RMGO’s First Amendment challenges to Colorado law. In his ruling, Judge Spencer rejected all of CCL’s and RMGO’s arguments that the First Amendment allows them to electioneer without obeying Colorado disclosure laws about money in politics.
“The First Amendment is meant to help an informed people govern themselves. It is not a tool for special interests to manipulate the political process in secret,” said Luis Toro, Director of Ethics Watch. “It is time for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and Colorado Campaign for Life to pay their fines and obey the law like everyone else who spends money to electioneer in the last days before an election.”