DENVER (CN) - A community gadfly who opposes Common Core standards sued Colorado, claiming its peculiar "private enforcement" of campaign finance laws is unconstitutional, and cost her thousands of dollars to defend herself in lawsuits.
Tammy Holland is the mother of a middle-schooler in Strasburg, a town of 2,500 about 40 miles east of Denver. She sued Secretary of State Wayne Williams in Federal Court on Wednesday.
Holland says she's spent more than $3,500 in attorney's fees to defend herself in two lawsuits that accused her of violating Colorado campaign finance laws by placing ads in her local paper for a school board election.
"Unlike most states - in which campaign-finance laws are enforced directly by the
Secretary of State or another government agency - Colorado has outsourced enforcement of its campaign-finance laws to the public at large," her complaint states. "Under Colorado law, 'any person' may initiate a lawsuit to enforce Colorado's campaign-finance laws by filing a complaint with the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State must forward these complaints to the Office of Administrative Courts, triggering full-blown litigation in which the complainant is entitled to use all the tools of discovery in furtherance of even the most baseless and abusive complaints.
"The result of Colorado's private-enforcement system is that Coloradans who exercise their First Amendment rights are exposed to arbitrary, viewpoint-based retaliation and costly litigation with no accountability and no effective check by the Colorado executive branch."
Holland frequently places ads in the I-70 Scout, criticizing Common Core curricula and the increased use of standardized testing in the school district.
The ads that triggered her legal battle, published before the November 2015 school board election, detailed the merits of the candidates, and called some sitting board members "citizens who no longer have children that attend Byers school district."
Byers School District Superintendent Tom Turrell sued her, claiming she violated Colorado law by failing to register as a political committee, and failing to put a "paid by" disclaimer in the ad.
Holland says she was not offered a public defender, and so would have to represent herself in court or hire an attorney. She hired a lawyer, but the superintendent withdrew the lawsuit two days before the first hearing.
When Holland asked to be reimbursed for attorney's fees, the superintendent and school board member Tom Thompson sued her again.
Holland sued the state Wednesday, claiming its outsourcing of campaign-law enforcement is unconstitutional.
"Mr. Turrell and Mr. Thompson seem to be upset that the ads implied that incumbent candidates didn't care about the students as much as the non-incumbent candidates did," her attorney Paul Sherman told Courthouse News.
"Mr. Thompson was also bothered that the ads listed qualifications for the non-incumbents, but not for the incumbents. Neither of those things, however, violate Colorado's campaign finance laws, which in this case only apply to ads that 'expressly advocate' the defeat or election of specific candidates."
In the lawsuit, Holland says she attended the Oct. 15, 2015 school board meeting, during which Thompson "made clear that she had 'instructed' Superintendent Turrell to file the complaint against (her)." Thompson also said that he "was preparing to re-file the complaint against Ms. Holland in his own name."