Colorado Supreme Court rules that lawyers are NOT above the law
(although 527 political organizations might exploit statutory loopholes)
Campaign Integrity Watchdog achieved another stunning upset victory, defeating the Colorado Secretary of State, the Colorado Attorney General, and disgraced former Colorado Republican Party Chair and lawbreaking lawyer Ryan Call in a ruling released today by the Colorado Supreme Court.
The victory is especially remarkable because Campaign Integrity Watchdog was represented by non-attorney Matt Arnold, who argued the case before the Colorado Supreme Court last May.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruling, 17SC149 Campaign Integrity Watchdog v. Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills, affirmed the important principle that (at least under the state’s campaign finance rules) lawyers are NOT above the law.
Most importantly, the ruling held that “because a payment to a third party for a political committee’s legal defense is a payment “for the benefit” of the political committee, it counts as a contribution under article XXVIII, § 2(5)(a)(II).”
The ruling has broader implications for a number of other cases successfully prosecuted by Campaign Integrity Watchdog being appealed by the losers (such as Bob Beauprez’s illegally operating unregistered political committee ‘Colorado Pioneer Action’) and other cases currently before both trial and appellate courts (including another case being defended by Ryan Call).
Specifically, the Colorado Supreme Court’s holding that “It makes no difference here that the contributions were not used to directly influence an election—any contribution to a political committee that has the major purpose of influencing an election is deemed to be campaign related and thus justifies the burden of disclosure and reporting” eviscerates arguments put forward by the legions of lawyers (including the Attorney General, using taxpayer funds) trying to evade the transparency and accountability of Colorado’s disclosure and reporting laws.
“This ruling is a victory for transparency and accountability in political campaigns, and upholds the critically important principle that lawyers are not able to operate above and outside the law,” said Campaign Integrity Watchdog director and pro se legal representative Matt Arnold.
Ironically, in another case released simultaneously, the Colorado Supreme Court found that due to disparate statutory treatment of 527 political organizations under state law, a contribution of legal services to such entities does not necessarily constitute a “reportable” contribution.
“The Colorado Supreme Court’s narrowly construed ruling on statutory definitions applicable to 527 political organizations, while disappointing, highlights the flaws in the statutory language. Clearly, the appropriate remedy is a legislative correction of the statutory definitions to bring them into greater congruence with the constitutional definitions, which the Court held do not apply to the 527 statutory creature carved out from the broader constitutionally-defined “political committee,” stated Campaign Integrity Watchdog director and pro se representative Matt Arnold.
Campaign Integrity Watchdog’s wins – against both well-funded special interest groups and their legions of lawyers, and Colorado Secretary of State (represented by the Attorney General) attempting to provide cover for his political allies – highlight the need for a truly independent watchdog working for transparency, accountability, and integrity in political campaigns.
Colorado Integrity Watchdog IS Colorado’s only independent accountability organization.
Campaign Integrity Watchdog is a non-partisan organization who has taken both legislators, candidates, and other political committees to task on both sides of the aisle. Earlier this year, CIW won a pair of blockbuster judgments (setting, then surpassing, new records for penalty amounts imposed by courts in campaign finance cases) against sham “social welfare” 501(c)4 organizations formed by two-time failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez (penalty amount: $17,735) and by ousted former Colorado Republican Party Chair Ryan Call (penalty amount: $23,147.86), respectively.