19 May 2008

Amendment 27 Noose Loosened

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the teacher's union on the scope of in-kind campaign contributions under Amendment 27, Colorado's state constitution imposed campaign finance law.

The Colorado Court of Appeals had held that using paid union officials to organize volunteer events at which union members dropped literature for a partisan political campaign was an illegal in kind campaign contribution. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding the activity to be exempt from campaign finance limitations because they constituted "communication solely with members and their families."

Weighing the scales was the principle, most recently noted by the U.S. Supreme Court in a decision evaluating the constitutionality of another state's campaign finance laws that:

Our construction and application of these regulations “must give the benefit of any doubt to protecting rather than stifling speech.” Fed. Election Comm’n v. Wis. Right to Life, Inc., 127 S.Ct. 2652, 2667 (2007).

The decision was 5-2 with the court's two most conservative justices, Eid and Coates, dissenting.

Today's decision creates a safe harbor for non-monetary union (and 501(c)(4) civic organization) involvement in partisan politics.

It also sheds some insight on how the Colorado Supreme Court may handle interpretation of Amendment 41 gift ban, a matter it has twice declined to address on the merits (once in a request from the legislature and again in a interlocutory appeal from a district court decision) in order to allow the ethics commission which created the law to weigh in on the matter first. The ruling suggests that, if the ethics commission gives it the opportunity, that the Colorado Supreme Court will interpret Amendment 41 weakly, reading in the requirement of a nexus between improper influence and a gift that supporters of the Amendment and the Colorado General Assembly have urged, unless the ethics commission unequivocally interprets the law as the true gift ban that one infers from the plain language of the Amendment, in which case it may have no choice but to strike it down in whole or in part as unconstitutinal.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Fort Collin's daily paper covered the story, the Denver dailies did not.