Yesterday, Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer dismissed Ethics Watch’s lawsuit against Citizens United for failing to report its spending on television ads attacking Governor John Hickenlooper during the last weeks of the 2014 election campaign. Judge Spencer ruled that a settlement agreement between Citizens United and Secretary of State Wayne Williams in a federal lawsuit filed by Citizens United eliminated Ethics Watch’s ability to enforce Colorado campaign finance laws against Citizens United.
In October 2014, Citizens United filed a federal lawsuit against the Colorado Secretary of State, and won a partial injunction against enforcement of electioneering disclosure laws. The ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that Citizens United need not disclose spending on the film “Rocky Mountain Heist,” a “documentary” released just before the election, but may be required to disclose spending on television ads for the “documentary” that identified Governor Hickenlooper.
Ethics Watch later filed a complaint against CU for electioneering disclosure violations as to television advertisements that were not subject to the injunction. Then, the Secretary entered into a federal consent decree with Citizens United enjoining the enforcement of electioneering disclosure laws, not only as to the spending that the Tenth Circuit said need not be disclosed, but also to the television ads that were the subject matter of the complaint. Yesterday’s ruling concluded that the Secretary’s settlement with Citizens United prevents Ethics Watch from proceeding with its complaint.
Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro said: “We are disappointed that the Court accepted Secretary Williams’ grant of a one-time ‘get out of jail free’ card for Citizens United only. Even though the Supreme Court case that bears its name said corporations and people must be treated equally, Citizens United was happy to accept a special dispensation that allowed it to ignore the rules that apply to everyone else. Secretary Williams should be fighting to enforce campaign finance laws, not cutting special deals with his conservative allies.”