CCP Files Brief in Colorado Supreme Court Free Speech Case

CONTACT: Sarah Lee, Communications Director, 770.598.7961

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) today announced that it filed its opening brief in the Colorado Supreme Court, which earlier agreed to answer four questions presented by a federal judge hearing the case of Coalition for a Secular Government (CSG) v. Gessler.

The case argues that the First Amendment to the US Constitution bars Colorado from forcing small groups like CSG to register with the state before expressing an opinion on, or publishing an analysis of, issues which may become a ballot question.

In the brief, CCP’s lawyers urge the Colorado high court to answer the four questions posed by the Federal court so as to clarify that CSG’s activities are exempt from regulation under the state’s vague campaign finance laws.

CCP Legal Director Allen Dickerson said “the federal court noted the need for ‘clear guidance’ on these questions. We hope the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to provide much-needed certainty to CSG and other groups on the meaning of these important, and basic, provisions of state law.”

The brief argues, concerning the first question to be considered by the Court, that lengthy policy papers such as those published by CSG should not be construed as express advocacy on a ballot question just because they conclude that a proposed ballot question should be defeated.  Even if such writings are considered express advocacy, the brief argues that the Court should rule that they are protected by the press exemption, which exempts “commentary writings” and the like—the subject of the second question.  The brief also notes that the Colorado constitutional provisions regulating campaign finance make “no mention of policy papers at all.”

The brief then addresses the third question: whether CSG’s papers are a regulated “written or broadcast communications” under Colorado law, or if they become a regulated communication after being posted on a blog or Facebook page.  It concedes the papers are “written” in the strict sense of the word, and argues that the statute was not designed to cover such public policy papers.

Finally, in answering the question about the monetary trigger for regulated issue committee status, the brief urges the Court to adopt a trigger sufficiently high enough to shield CSG’s publications from regulation, and also comply with federal law.  The group projects it would spend about $3500 on the papers.

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, which led to the lawsuit.

Dickerson and the CCP legal team filed the lawsuit 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. In October, the federal court certified four questions in an attempt to clarify Colorado campaign finance laws so it could determine whether the provisions are constitutional under the First Amendment as applied to CSG’s activities.

 

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.

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