Judge Strikes Campaign-Finance Enforcement Law

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 15, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Enforcement provisions of Colorado's campaign finance law are unconstitutional, a federal judge said.

Judge Raymond Moore said the enforcement provisions, which empower private citizens to file complaints over campaign finance issues, violate protections for political speech. With that decision in Holland v. Williams, the judge will likely issue a permanent injunction against the state.

According to reports, the ruling has major implications for state politics. It may not matter beyond Colorado, however, because it is the only state in the nation with such private-enforcement laws.

Money in Politics

Unlike other states, Colorado doesn't audit "money-in-politics" reports from candidates or political groups. It doesn't enforce its campaign finance laws either.

By constitutional amendment, voters gave themselves that power -- ostensibly to save taxpayer money. When someone files a complaint, the matter is referred to an administrative law judge for resolution.

The system has drawn criticism because citizens end up personally paying for enforcement, while public officials rely on public money. That was the predicament for Tammy Holland.

She took out ads in local newspapers criticizing a local school district. A superintendent filed a complaint against her, alleging she violated campaign finance violations.

She sued, alleging the enforcement law was unconstitutional. She won on summary judgment.

Is the Sky Falling?

Luis Toro, an ethics attorney who has worked on campaign finance cases, told the Colorado Independent that the ruling could have a "major" impact on the upcoming elections.

"Depending on what the court's final injunction order says, it looks like we may not have any campaign finance enforcement in Colorado for the 2018 election, he said. "It will be interesting to see if anybody just stops reporting."

Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said her office will come up with some way to enforce the law. The state might even prosecute violators, she said.

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