A Court of Appeals panel last week dismissed two campaign finance complaints, citing a lack of jurisdiction under the secretary of state's recently-revised protocols.
Campaign Integrity Watchog and its director, Matt Arnold, had filed a 2017 campaign finance complaint against Citizens for Reasonable, Rational & Responsible Governance with then-Secretary of State Wayne Williams. Subsequently a 2018 federal court decision struck down a portion of Colorado’s constitution relating to enforcement. Currently, such filings are directed to the Elections Division, but the original provision sent them to an administrative law judge.
U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore at the time found it unreasonable to leave enforcement of elections laws to someone who may not have experience with the regulations. Williams did not appeal the ruling and instead issued emergency rules. Under the revisions, appeals now proceed to the state district court level, rather than the Court of Appeals.
CIW refiled the complaint according to the new procedures, and the secretary of state’s office dismissed it. However, CIW appealed directly to the Court of Appeals.
“[W]e still do not have jurisdiction to consider CIW’s constitutional arguments under the private enforcement provision because the order appealed is not from an [administrative law judge],” wrote Judge Rebecca R. Freyre for the three-member panel.
The opinion was unpublished, meaning that it does not hold precedential value and only affects the case at hand. However, a separate appellate panel in May arrived at the same conclusion for a similar complaint that bypassed the district court.
CIW also filed a campaign finance complaint against Williams, which went to the attorney general’s office under the prior set of rules governing complaints against secretary of state candidates. The appellate panel dismissed the case for the same jurisdictional reason. CIW’s complaints to the secretary of state’s office comprise roughly half of the total number filed since 2014.
Arnold called the Court of Appeals' ruling a "punt," adding that he did not believe the judges were bound by the federal decision on the campaign finance procedures.
"The only reason for that loss of jurisdiction is the statute that's being challenged. It's completely circular," said Arnold. "I don't care what a single lower court federal judge has to say because that applies in that one case to that particular set of parties and no one else."
He believed Williams did not have the authority to pass the emergency rules, calling them "unconstitutional." The General Assembly later ratified the changes with 2019 legislation. Arnold plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The cases are Campaign Integrity v. Secretary of State and Campaign Integrity v. Attorney General.
This article has been updated with comments from Arnold.