Colorado Group Files First Amendment Lawsuit
DATELINE: Monday, July 2, 2012
CONTACT: Sarah Lee, Communications Director, Center for Competitive Politics, 770.598.7961
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) legal team, led by Legal Director Allen Dickerson, today filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado on behalf of the Coalition for Secular Government (CSG). The question raised by the First Amendment lawsuit is whether Colorado can force small educational groups to register with the state before expressing an opinion on or publishing an analysis of a ballot question.
Colorado resident Diana Hsieh, a doctor of philosophy, organized the non-profit CSG together with her friend Ari Armstrong in order to promote a secular understanding of individual rights, including freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. Because of unconstitutionally vague state laws, confusion as to what constitutes political speech and what is covered under a press exemption, and a refusal by the state to abide by a federal court order, Hsieh and CSG have found it nearly impossible to carry out the activities of a small non-profit group without fear of running afoul of complex Colorado campaign finance laws.
“Ari and I simply wanted to discuss a Colorado ballot measure as a small part of our effort to educate people about our philosophy. Our goal has never been to defeat such measures; they would have lost just as badly without our policy papers,” Hsieh notes. “It’s frustrating that even our modest efforts are hampered by the Colorado campaign finance system. To avoid the risk of costly lawsuits and hefty fines, we must report minor purchases of office supplies and the names and addresses of small-dollar donors. Our experiences with Colorado’s system have been confusing and dispiriting. We’ve not abandoned our efforts, as most people would have done, but we’ve definitely scaled back our efforts. We shouldn’t have to register and file these meaningless reports with the State to speak on moral and political topics of public concern.”
Dickerson and the CCP legal team filed a complaint alleging that, even though Diana and CSG plan to raise no more than $3,500, nearly all of which will go toward updating and disseminating an expanded and updated copy of their public policy paper, the state of Colorado appears to demand that CSG register as an issue committee, with all the paperwork burdens and restrictions that status entails. Dickerson notes that this is unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and burdensome, particularly for a small group seeking only to exercise their right to speak.
“No group that spends very little money, and whose principal product is a policy white paper, should need the state’s permission to speak,” said Dickerson. “Despite good intentions, Colorado’s voters approved laws with that unreasonable and unconstitutional result. We hope this suit will give the federal courts an opportunity to protect CSG and other vulnerable, grassroots speakers.”
The suit asks for a declaratory judgment and requests that the court hear CSG’s claims on an expedited basis.
A background paper on the lawsuit can be viewed here.
A copy of the complaint filed in the lawsuit can be viewed here.
UPDATE: A motion for a preliminary injunction was filed on Monday, August 13, 2012 to ensure CSG is able to continue to speak without having to register as an issue committee while they wait for their case to be heard.
The Center for Competitive Politics promotes and defends the First Amendment’s protection of political rights of speech, assembly, and petition. It is the only organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.