The Denver Post's Spot blog reports Secretary of State Scott Gessler has had yet another lawsuit filed against him over campaign finance rulemaking. But this time, Gessler may not want to win.
The Center for Competitive Politics, which champions the money=speech side of the campaign finance equation, has filed a federal suit against the SOS on behalf of the Coalition for Secular Government, "saying Colorado's campaign finance laws are overly burdensome and violate the First Amendment rights of small educational groups," write the Post.
The Coalition for Secular Government, which "advocates government solely based on secular principles of individual rights," is challenging the threshold that requires any group spending more than $200 on electioneering to file regular reports with the state. Diana Hsieh, who formed the group four years ago, told the Post that "We shouldn't have to register and file these meaningless reports with the State to speak on moral and political topics of public concern."
The Secretary told the Post in an email he's "sympathetic to...small groups wanting to engage in their elections," and that the new lawsuit "only...illustrates how screwed up our campaign finance laws are."
Gessler has attempted to raise the limit on reporting to $5,000, but his efforts (which were opposed by Colorado Common Cause and Colorado Ethics Watch) were struck down by a Denver district court.
Oftentimes, history is generated in the complex ways everyday people respond to grand decisions that come from the top, rather than how that power acts on them directly and indirectly. And this is exactly the sort of complex, through-the-cracks-headscratcher that could end up creating history down the line, so take a few minutes to read the blog in full. There are plenty of questions here for concerned campaign finance activists may need to answer in the future:
- In an era of shadowy Super PACS and ridiculous, uber-wealthy donors (who seem more like they should be throwing chairs at Adam West and Burt Ward than representing the cream of the capitalist crop), is it too burdensome to weigh down small groups like The Coalition that are attempting to shape the public debate on issues by producing ostensibly thoughtful research?
- Or, is it irrational to call campaign finance reports, which are vital to the historical record journalists, organizers, academics, and everday people (not to mention protecting the general public) "meaningless"?
- The current $200 limit means more transparency, and isn't transparency the common ground that both American liberals and conservatives can meet when it comes to campaign finance? So why is Gessler and The Center for Competitive Politics so eager to change it?
- Why is it that speech continues to be more sacrosanct when it comes to spending on electioneering, than actually voting?
Any ideas? What else comes up for you?
Many thanks for writing.
For me, there are two issues that your case speaks to: the first is how best to provide transparency to the public, to activists, to academic researchers, and the media. As someone who obviously has strong opinions about campaign finance in Colorado, I’d be interested to hear if you have any thoughts on how the state can continue to make our campaign finance system as transparent as can be, and still make it possible for smaller legitimate groups like yours to have a say. Especially in this era of money-dominated elections, I think many on our side of this conversation would argue that there’s a risk for real mischief if that limit were raised.
The second issue is one borne of personal curiosity – considering that registering as a political issue committee would impose so many rules, deadlines, fees, and possible penalties on you and your associate, why did you feel it was necessary to register as a political issue committee? Was doing so right for the work that you and Ari do? And considering your experiences now, can you think of other ways that you’d be able to speak on the issues that are important to you and Ari without “running the gauntlet,” so to speak?
Again, thank you for writing. This is the kind of dialogue we hope to engender with our blog.