Cam­paign com­plaint process could change af­ter rul­ing

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jesse Paul Jesse Paul: 303-954-1733, jpaul@den­ver­post.com or @JesseAPaul

In a rul­ing with a ma­jor im­pact on Colorado elec­tions, a fed­eral judge this week found that por­tions of the state’s cam­paign fi­nance pro­ce­dures cen­ter­ing on pri­vate cit­i­zens’ abil­ity to file com­plaints are un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Judge Ray­mond Moore’s de­ci­sion Tues­day, on cam­paign fi­nance law en­force­ment pro­ce­dures that vot­ers added to the state’s con­sti­tu­tion in 2002, fo­cuses on the fact that com­plaints, once filed, are au­to­mat­i­cally for­warded to an ad­min­is­tra­tive law judge with­out any re­view on merit by the Colorado Sec­re­tary of State’s of­fice.

Moore’s rul­ing es­sen­tially means that there now has to be some kind of screen­ing mech­a­nism put in place to pre­vent friv­o­lous cases that can leave de­fen­dants fac­ing high at­tor­ney fees.

“How is it rea­son­able to en­croach upon First Amend­ment speech by al­low­ing a per­son to en­force cam­paign fi­nance reg­u­la­tions when that per­son may have no ex­pe­ri­ence of cam­paign fi­nance reg­u­la­tions?” Moore asked in his 26-page rul­ing.

Colorado’s deputy sec­re­tary of state, Suzanne Staiert, said the de­ci­sion now means her of­fice has to find a way to sat­isfy the vet­ting re­quire­ments.

“We have to de­cide in the next few days, be­cause right now I don’t think we can send a com­plaint over,” Staiert said Wed­nes­day. “It’s a lit­tle up­heaval, but we’ll fig­ure it out so there’s an en­force­ment mech­a­nism for the (2018) elec­tion.”

Staiert said one op­tion is for elec­tions of­fi­cials to add screen­ing pro­ce­dures through a rule­mak­ing process.

“The court’s rul­ing leaves in place the sub­stan­tive re­quire­ments of Colorado’s cam­paign fi­nance law but strikes down the en­force­ment mech­a­nism,” Sec­re­tary of State Wayne Williams, a Repub­li­can, said in a writ­ten state­ment. “We are con­sid­er­ing our op­tions for fur­ther re­view, but in the mean­time we will work col­lab­o­ra­tively with in­ter­ested par­ties to adopt tem­po­rary rules pro­vid­ing an en­force­ment mech­a­nism.”

Williams also vowed to ad­dress the is­sue with state law­mak­ers through leg­is­la­tion in 2019. (He is up for re-elec­tion in Novem­ber.)

The rul­ing stemmed from a case in­volv­ing a Stras­burg woman who placed ads in her lo­cal news­pa­per about a school board race. The Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice says the school district’s su­per­in­ten­dent filed a com­plaint against her, which was then for­warded to an ad­min­is­tra­tive law judge.

The judge found in the woman’s fa­vor, Staiert said, al­though the process cost the woman thou­sands of dol­lars.

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