This week brought a win for supporters of Colorado’s campaign finance disclosure laws when the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Citizens United must tell voters who is paying for advertisements they plan to run for their election-cycle film “Rocky Mountain Heist,” which is expected to be highly critical of state Democrats and specifically Governor John Hickenlooper.
“The court said … when you cross the line by running ads on TV or radio that mention candidates within 60 days of an election, you must disclose that funding,” said Peg Perl of Colorado Ethics Watch, which intervened in the case.
Citizens United also hailed the decision as a win because the court also ruled that the group would not have to disclose funders of the documentary itself, just the ads.
“For far too long Colorado’s campaign finance laws have burdened some speakers while protecting others,” said Citizens United President David N. Bossie, in a release. “Today’s ruling is an important first step in overturning this discriminatory law.”
In court, Citizens United argued that its ads and its film should be exempt from disclosure because Colorado law exempts some media outlets — like newspapers and broadcasters. Ted Olson, the nationally renown lawyer who is representing Citizens United in the case, argued that Colorado campaign finance disclosure law unfairly burdened “rough speakers” like Citizens United or Michael Moore out of view-point prejudice, resulting in unequal protection under the First Amendment.
Ultimately, the panel of three 10th Circuit Court judges hearing the emergency appeal offered a split decision. They said that, as news outlets are exempt from disclosure because they mention candidates in the course of their regular reporting duties, so Citizens United’s film might be considered part of their regular film-making duties and likewise be exempted. The decision then pointed out that, if a news outlet were to run ads of a similar nature to the ones Citizens United is planning, they too would need to file disclosure reports.
Citizens United has not announced whether or not they will appeal the ruling after this election cycle. The group could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, looking for a ruling that would include advertisements and have long-term, national implications on disclosure laws.
Ethics Watch said the decision this week upholds the spirit of the Colorado’s law in the face of Citizens United’s determination to overturn the entire regulatory system.
“No one ever questioned Citizens United’s right to spend unlimited corporate cash making their ‘movie,'” said Luis Toro, Ethics Watch Director, in a release. “If they want to spend money on ads about candidates right before the election, however, they must follow the same disclosure laws as everyone else.”
[Image via Flickr]