Colorado District Court Denies Preliminary Injunction & Temporary Restraining Order in Challenge to Electioneering Communications Disclosure Provisions


Today in Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) v. Gessler, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado denied motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction stemming from a challenge to the state’s electioneering communications disclosure provisions. The federal court declined to exercise jurisdiction over the claims, ruling instead that the issues should be addressed in state administrative and/or state court proceedings.

In November, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21 and Public Citizen, filed an amici brief urging the court to reject the constitutional challenge and deny a preliminary injunction. The brief emphasized that the state law is materially identical to the federal “electioneering communications” disclosure statute, which has been repeatedly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court has been steadfast in its support for this type of electioneering communications disclosure provision,” said Megan P. McAllen, Campaign Legal Center Associate Counsel. “These provisions require nothing more than transparency. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed, the electorate has a keen informational interest in knowing who is speaking about candidates shortly before an election. Courts nationwide have recognized the same, and have overwhelmingly rejected similar challenges from ‘dark money’ groups seeking to influence voters without revealing the sources of their funding.”

In October, in Independence Institute v. Gessler, the same Colorado district court dismissed a challenge to the same provisions of Colorado law as they applied to broadcast advertisements. The Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21 and Public Citizen, also filed an amici brief in that case in defense of the law.

In June 2014, within the thirty-day electioneering communications window for primary elections, plaintiffs RMGO and Colorado Campaign for Life each spent more than $1,000 sending mailers to voters identifying candidates and their policy positions, thus triggering Colorado’s electioneering communications disclosure provisions. A local watchdog group, Colorado Ethics Watch, filed an administrative complaint against the groups for their failure to file the required disclosure reports, and the groups moved to enjoin the ensuing state administrative proceedings in federal court.       

The Colorado provisions closely track the federal “electioneering communications” disclosure law, which Congress enacted in 2002 to curb widespread evasion of earlier disclosure requirements that applied only to “express advocacy” ads. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice upheld this law: first in a facial challenge in McConnell v. FEC (2003), and more recently in an as-applied challenge in Citizens United v. FEC (2010).

The Legal Center was assisted in the filing of the amici brief by Steven K. Imig of Lewis, Bess, Williams & Weese P.C.

To read the order, click here.

To read the amici brief filed last month, click here