DENVER (CN) – Gun owners’ and anti-abortion groups have no claim against Colorado or a government watchdog that accused them of violating campaign finance laws, for which each group was fined $8,450, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn on Wednesday dismissed Rocky Mountain Gun Owners’ and Colorado Campaign For Life’s complaint against the Colorado Secretary of State and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington dba Colorado Ethics Watch.
Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State, claiming the groups violated state campaign reporting and disclosure laws. The secretary of state joined in the complaint and referred it to an administrative law judge, who ruled on Dec. 23, 2014 that the political groups “made reportable electioneering communications, but failed to file the required reports.” The judge fined each group $8,450 and ordered them to file the required reports.
The groups responded by suing Ethics Watch and the state in October 2014. The gun group’s director called it “outrageous” that his group had to “beg for government permission” for “free speech.”
But Judge Blackburn found no First Amendment violations.
But Judge Blackburn sided with Colorado Ethics Watch, as he states in his opinion that Ethics’ complaints obviously aren’t misplaced, because both of their complaints resulted in valid judgments against the two groups.
“States have a legitimate interest in preserving the integrity of their electoral processes,” Blackburn wrote, citing Brown v. Hartlage, 456 U.S. 45, 52 (1982).
“The evidence cited by the plaintiffs is not sufficient to justify further discovery on the issue of bad faith or harassment of the plaintiffs by CEW. The CEW complaint at issue here was found to be valid in the state proceeding.”
Nor did Blackburn find sufficient evidence to support claims that Ethics Watch “has an animus toward conservative groups and Republicans, and pursues selective bad faith prosecutions of such groups,” and that its complaint to the secretary of state was pretextual, frivolous and in bad faith.
“The complaint was found to be valid,” Blackburn wrote. Moreover, Ethics Watch complained of each group here only once, and the records the political groups cited to show the alleged animus were selective and incomplete.
‘Nothing in the evidence cited by the parties shows that CEW pursues invalid complaints as a method of harassment and/or in retaliation for certain types of political speech. There is no evidence of unjustified and oppressive multiple complaints by CEW.”
Colorado Ethics Watch director Luis Toro said his group was “pleased that a federal judge has reviewed the evidence and confirmed that we do not target groups based on the content of their speech.”
Blackburn ordered the political groups to pay the costs, and closed the case.
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