Thursday, June 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Disclosure Case Tossed Against Advocacy Group

DENVER (CN) - The 10th Circuit held that a Colorado nonprofit does not have to register as an "issue committee" despite using donated money to campaign against the state's proposed "personhood" laws.

The proposed "personhood" amendment to the Colorado Constitution has been put before voters at least three times in recent years, in 2008, 2010 and 2014.

Its aim is to grant unborn fetuses the same rights as born individuals.

The Coalition for Secular Government, which has a history of advocating for abortion rights, is opposed to the amendment, opposes the amendment.

On its website it says it actively fights against "any laws or policies based on religious scripture or dogma."

The Colorado secretary of state challenged the group's official standing after it published three policy papers in opposition to the amendment. Though the original suit named Scott Gressler as the defendant, he has since been replaced as defendant by current Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

Court documents say the coalition spent between $1,500 and $3,500 to publish and distribute the papers.

The group sued in protest of requirements to register as an issue committee and disclose its donors and expenditures.

U.S. District Judge John Kane ruled for the coalition in October 2014, describing his decision as an "obvious" one.

"The nature of CSG and its advocacy render any 'informational interest' the government has in mandating contribution and expenditure disclosures so minimal as to be nonexistent," Kane wrote, "and certainly insufficient to justify the burdens compliance imposes on members' constitutional free speech and association rights.

"This conclusion is so obvious, moreover, that having to adjudicate it in every instance as the Colorado Supreme Court implies is necessary itself offends the First Amendment."

Gressler immediately appealed the decision, but the 10th Circuit affirmed Wednesday that the coalition was too much of a "small-scale issue committee" to necessitate such scrutiny involved in registering and disclosing its donor information.

"We commend the secretary for his progress in streamlining issue-committee disclosures and explaining complex laws to ordinary citizens," Judge Gregory Phillips wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel. "But the burdens remain too great in the face of the public's legitimate but minimal interest in information about the coalition's contributors and expenditures.

"The government's modest informational interest in the coalition's disclosures is not reflected in the burdens Colorado law imposes on the coalition," Phillips wrote.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.