County’s campaign laws taken to federal court
Pitkin County’s campaign spending and contribution limits are under fire again, this time in federal district court.The Common Sense Alliance, a local political organization, is asking the court to rule the spending limits are unconstitutional in every case and the contribution limit, while allowable in some elections, is being applied too broadly. The complaint was filed Thursday in Denver.The group has also asked for a temporary restraining order that would constrain the county from enforcing the sections of the home rule charter that set the limits. If the motion is successful, it will allow the alliance to accept contributions above $500 and spend more than the $12,547 in its effort to defeat two ballot questions in the upcoming general election.”Why now? Because we’ve got a major campaign underway,” said Common Sense Alliance spokesman Jeffrey Evans.Evans said the lawsuit, which names the Board of County Commissioners and county clerk and recorder Sylvia Davis as defendants, is the culmination of his five-year effort to remove the limits from the books.”Along with a lot of other things, it’s clear Pitkin County will not pay attention to the state and federal constitutions unless you take them to court,” he said.The Common Sense Alliance is being represented by Edward T. Ramey, from the Denver law firm Isaacson, Rosenbaum, Woods & Levy. Evans said Ramey was the attorney who successfully defended the Common Sense Alliance before the Colorado Supreme Court in a dispute with the county over campaign contribution disclosure rules.Ramey and the Common Sense Alliance are attacking the spending limits and contribution limits separately, although they cite many of the same court decisions in both arguments and rely heavily on Buckley vs. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court’s seminalruling in 1976 on campaign spending and contribution limits.”Perhaps the principal holding of the Supreme Court in Buckley vs. Valeo was that the state may not impose direct limitations upon the independent expenditure of funds for political advocacy – even in the context of a candidate campaign, let alone a ballot issue campaign,” the alliance’s motion says.It goes on to quote the Buckley ruling directly. “No governmental interest that has been suggested is sufficient to justify the restriction on the quantity of political expression imposed by [the Federal Election Campaign Act’s] campaign expenditure limitations.”The complaint and motion take a different tack with the contribution limits. Recognizing that the Buckley ruling specifically permits the government to set contribution limits in some cases, the alliance argument turns instead to the legality of imposing such limits on campaigns that involve an issue, like the proposal to form a rural transportation district in the Roaring Fork Valley, instead of a candidate.Citing two Supreme Court rulings that followed the Buckley case, the motion declares, “the Supreme Court has noted that `[t]he risk of corruption in cases involving candidate elections … simply is not present in a popular vote on a public issue.’ … Accordingly, the Supreme Court has held unequivocally that `there is no significant state or public interest in curtailing debate or discussion of a ballot measure.'”Evans said he expects the court to issue a temporary restraining order against the county in the next week or so, which would allow the Common Sense Alliance to raise and spend as much as it pleases, however it pleases.And he expects to prevail in the long run with a ruling overturning the limits.”There is absolutely no constitutional justification or precedent for the direct imposition of limits – whatever their degree – upon the amount of money one may expend upon one’s own political speech,” the motion reads.
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