Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman fed some crow to his adversaries on the Aurora City Council last week. An Arapahoe County District judge issued a preliminary injunction in the mayor’s lawsuit against the city over a new campaign finance law Coffman says violates freedom of speech.
A recently elected, left-leaning council majority enacted the wide-ranging, complicated new law last year in pursuit of that ever-fleeting reform — getting money out of politics. The new campaign-finance rules — the handiwork of national activist groups that pitch their proposals nationwide — imposed limits on political contributions, among other restrictions.
In debate over the proposal last fall, Coffman said he had no problem with the contribution limits, but he pointed out another provision he contended was unconstitutional. The law constrains any candidate for Aurora office — that’s anyone with an active campaign committee, which almost all elected officeholders maintain while they serve — from helping other candidates. In just about any way.
Coffman’s court motion to enjoin the measure, filed in March with the help of the Public Trust Institute, contended he “is prohibited from doing anything effective for other political campaigns…. He cannot encourage his friends and neighbors to donate to a particular candidate; he cannot help someone new to politics get his or her campaign committee off the ground; he cannot form an issue committee to support or oppose a ballot issue; he cannot share his donor list; he cannot even give other campaigns ideas about messaging or strategy.”
The mayor — a political veteran who represented the 6th Congressional District for five terms — had warned the measure’s sponsors at the time of its passage that it was too restrictive to pass legal muster. They waved him off and continued to do so when he sued this spring. They also scoffed at Coffman’s accusation that they passed the law to curb his considerable political clout, including his ability to champion council candidates more to his liking.
Last week’s preliminary injunction halted the new law’s enforcement — and likely, the council’s scoffing. It turns out the council may have overreached after all.
In granting the injunction, the court held, “the challenged parts of the Ordinance stifle protected speech as well (as) the related right of association.” The defendants had argued the problematic provisions were necessary to fight corruption or the appearance of impropriety, but the court said that argument rested on a “dubious premise.” All of which doesn’t bode well for the court’s eventual ruling on the merits of the case.
In a statement issued last week, Coffman said, “These extreme rules are designed specifically to deny me the fundamental right to publicly support candidates or ballot initiatives.”
Coffman, a GOP heavyweight and retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, is a law-and-order mayor who has been at loggerheads with the council majority’s anti-cop tilt. By all indicators, he would like to see some new faces on the dais.
Given the metro area’s soaring crime rate, it’s a safe bet more and more Aurorans feel the same way.