Colorado proposal threatens political free speech

By Bill Armstrong

    Editor's Note: Denver businessman Bill Armstrong, a Republican former member of the US Senate, US House, and Colorado Senate, fired off an email alert from New York to friends at home on Monday afternoon, voicing his concern about last-minute legislation that would further restrict freedom of expression in state campaigns. With Armstrong's permission, here's the text of that email.

Dear John: As I was leaving town yesterday for a week on the road, I read an article in the Sunday Denver Post that made my hair stand on end. HCR06-1010 has been introduced with bipartisan sponsorship in the Colorado House and, if adopted, would have the effect of drastically curtailing the so-called 527s, the independent political committees that have flourished in the aftermath of efforts to reform political campaigns by limiting candidate spending.

Well, I’m no fan of 527s. I agree with somebody who described them as “sort of a necessary evil.”

But I am a fan of First Amendment rights. I happen to think freedom of speech and publication, particularly on political topics, is absolutely fundamental to a free society. As a practical matter, groups like Trailhead, Colorado Club For Growth, Colorado Conservative Voters and others are about the only way a lot of people have to forcefully express their political opinions and preferences. With tight limits on contributions to candidates, independent expenditures (and groups) represent one of the very, very few opportunities for citizens to counter the overweening power of incumbents and the media.

Curtailing or crippling these groups violates the spirit (and perhaps the letter) of the U.S. Constitution and certainly runs counter to Section 10, Article II of the Colorado Constitution which expresses succinctly the aim of letting every person have an opportunity to express their opinion. (I understand this proposal would amend the state constitution and supersede Article II, Section 10. But that doesn’t make it right!)

Obviously, I do not know what prompted this proposal, but I am guessing it’s motivated by the tremendous Democratic advantage in 527 fund raising. I am well aware that a handful of rich and willful Democrats spent millions of dollars against our candidates last time. I know how hard it was for GOP candidates to survive the mudslinging attacks launched by Bridges, Stryker, Polis, Gill, et al.

But the bottom line is this – it doesn’t matter whether we like what they did (I don’t) or the result, including our loss of key legislative seats. They were only exercising their rights as citizens. The right of citizens to express their point of view on any subject – particularly about candidates and political issues – is just basic. It’s Civics 101. It’s the American Way.

Hopefully, this is all just a big misunderstanding. Maybe I misread the summary of HCR06-1010 posted on the General Assembly web site. If so, I apologize in advance. If I am mistaken, I will recall the words of Winston Churchill who once said “In the course of my long public life, I have often had to eat my own words. And on the whole, I have found them to be quite tasty.” Nothing would please me more than to find out that I am concerned about nothing.

Best regards, Bill

P.S. Did you happen to see George Will’s article a week or so ago? As you may know, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure similar to HCR06-1010 by a nearly straight party-line vote. Will says this action shows why Republicans may well lose control of the House and deserve to do so. I earnestly hope that Colorado Republicans are not about to follow their anti-free speech example.