Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Colorado Campaign for Life lose Colorado Ethics Watch lawsuit

This week, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit filed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and Colorado Campaign for Life against Colorado Ethics Watch.

Judge Robert Blackburn of the U.S. District Court for Colorado dismissed the two organizations’ claims that Ethics Watch had violated their First Amendment rights by filing a campaign finance complaint last September.

The lawsuit and campaign finance complaint date back to last year’s primary election. In the 30 days before the June 2014 primary, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners sent a letter to voters in Senate District 22, attacking a Republican candidate, Mario Nicolais, for being anti-gun. The letter praised his primary opponent, Tony Sanchez, for being pro-gun.

At about the same time, Colorado Campaign for Life sent a mailer to voters in Senate District 19, attacking Republican Lang Sias for being “Apathetic to the Unborn.” The letter praised his primary opponent, Laura Woods, for being committed to the unborn. The group sent a similar mailer to Senate District 22 voters regarding the Nicolais-Sanchez primary.

Neither organization filed campaign finance reports that would reveal who paid for the mailers and how that money was spent. That led, on September 9, to a complaint filed by Ethics Watch.

In October, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and Colorado Campaign for Life filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Colorado against Ethics Watch and the Secretary of State, claiming the electioneering provision of the state’s Fair Campaign Practices Act is unconstitutional and violates First Amendment rights.

Blackburn ruled Tuesday that the Ethics Watch complaint, based on the decision by the administrative law judge, was valid.

The plaintiffs’ second claim, that Ethics Watch targets only conservative political groups and retaliates for political speech, also was dismissed by the judge. The groups pointed to the Ethics Watch website as evidence that the organization only goes after conservative groups.

Blackburn explained that the complaints against Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and Colorado Campaign for Life were the first filed against them by Ethics Watch.

“Nothing in the evidence cited by the parties shows that [Ethics Watch] 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 Ethics Watch, Blackburn wrote.

Both Rocky Mountain Gun Owners’ Dudley Brown and Colorado Campaign for Life’s Christy Rodriguez did not respond to multiple calls or emails for comment.

Whether they plan to appeal is unknown. The decision was not mentioned on Rocky Mountain Gun Owners’ Facebook page, website or Twitter feed this week, or on Colorado Campaign for Life’s website.

While happy with the decision, Luis Toro of Ethics Watch said the lawsuit against his organization may be an omen of things to come.

“Obviously, we are pleased that we were vindicated,” Toro told The Colorado Independent Friday. But “these kinds of conspiracy theories” that wind up in court do have a downside, he warned. It will become more burdensome as people file federal suits against private citizens and organizations like Ethics Watch, “just because we’re exercising our First Amendment rights.”


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr.