A federal judge in June struck down Colorado’s distinctive law (earlier) under which any private person could file charges of campaign-finance violations. “That is unconstitutional, the court held, because there is ‘nothing reasonable about outsourcing the enforcement of laws with teeth of monetary penalties to anyone who believes that those laws have been violated.'” The Institute for Justice had represented “Strasburg resident Tammy Holland, [who] challenged the system after she was twice sued by members of her local school board for running newspaper ads urging voters to educate themselves about school-board candidates. Even though Holland was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, the lawsuits dragged on for months and cost thousands of dollars in legal fees.” [Institute for Justice press release] Following the ruling, the state quickly moved to institute a new process under which complaints will be vetted, and are subject to closer time limits. [Jesse Paul, Denver Post]
Attorney and Denver Post columnist Mario Nicolais writes that at first he thought Colorado’s privately driven system worked well, until it developed into a vehicle for volume filings settled for cash:
…several groups began filing campaign finance complaints solely to line their own pockets and intimidate political opponents. These groups comb through campaign finance filings looking for any small errors and then exploit the complaint system for their own gain. The director for one of these groups, Matt Arnold, coined his work “political guerilla legal warfare (a.k.a. Lawfare).” …
… Because of the byzantine procedure through which Colorado’s campaign finance penalties compound and accrue on a daily basis, the potential fines threatened by the group regularly reached into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even when the only errors involved a couple [of] omitted $3.00 transactions. Consequently, the group knew it could demand payments for $4,500 or $10,000. When defendants didn’t pay, the group threatened that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”
More: Corey Hutchins, Colorado Independent 2016.