Today, Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause filed an amicus brief with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals urging it to reverse a ruling that called into question the constitutionality of Colorado's law requiring disclosure of spending on ballot initiatives.
In 2012, a group opposing a "Personhood" ballot initiative filed suit in federal court, claiming that Colorado's issue committee reporting requirements were unconstitutional as applied to it as a small organization. The case was deferred until 2014 because the Personhood initiative failed to qualify for the 2012 ballot but did qualify for 2014.
U.S. District Judge John Kane ruled in favor of the group in a sweeping ruling that called into question Colorado's $200 threshold for issue committee reporting across the board. The Secretary of State, as the named defendant, appealed that decision.
Judge Kane's decision was based on his interpretation of a previous Tenth Circuit decision (Sampson v. Buescher) that found issue committee registration requirements unconstitutionally burdensome as applied to an informal group gathered to oppose a municipal annexation. The Secretary of State interpreted that ruling as invalidating the $200 threshold across the board and issued a regulation purporting to raise the limit to $5000. Ethics Watch and Common Cause sued to challenge the regulation. The Denver district court agreed and declared the regulation invalid, a decision that was affirmed by both the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court in Gessler v. Colorado Common Cause.
In their amicus brief filed today, Ethics Watch and Common Cause argued that the district court erred when he ruled that a case-by-case balancing test to determine whether a group's activities can constitutionally be subject to regulation is prohibited by the First Amendment, and when he ruled that the state's interest in requiring disclosure of a small group's spending on a statewide ballot initiative was too minimal.
The case is Coalition for Secular Government v. Williams, No. 14-1469.