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Longmont City Council candidate Bill Van Dusen wrote a guest opinion in the October 18, 2009 Longmont Times-Call entitled “More transparent campaigns make for more informed voters“. Some of his positions were just shot down by a federal judge in the Preliminary Injunction that was just handed down in the case of Western Tradition Partnership, et al v. The City of Longmont (full disclosure, I’m also a plaintiff in this ongoing case)
His piece was a veiled attack on former Longmont mayor Julia Pirnack in reference to an earlier piece she wrote about the importance of anonymity. He even goes as far as justifying Longmont’s draconian requirements in the ridiculously written Independent Expenditure portion that was just deemed null and void by the judge in this case. His example? Another terrible piece of legislation called the McCain-Feingold Act, the very law that has brought us 527 groups and the fiasco we find ourselves in every election cycle.
If you read through his op-ed it’s full of items the judge took apart in his order for this injunction. He also completely misses the point of why this lawsuit was filed, at least from where the judge found myself to have “standing“: The red herring he throws out is that he thinks it’s all about people trying to hide their identity, that’s on overly simplistic view of this that anyone who went to the trouble of reading the legal briefs or attended the court dates would have known better. He obviously didn’t, along with a bunch of people who are chiming in with absolutely no idea of what they are talking about.
The freedom of speech and the freedom of the press are precious rights worth defending. That’s why we should all be alarmed with how Council woman Karen Benker is using Longmont’s campaign laws to intimidate people who express their opinions and report information critical of elected officials. Continue reading
It appears Longmont City Council at-large candidate Kaye Fissinger has learned a trick from her fellow travelers in the White House: dump bad news late on Friday to avoid the news cycle. Nice try, but no such luck.
It appears that Ms. Fissinger, or whoever is filing her reports, made a few boo-boos on their initial campaign report on October 13th (you can see it here). In what basically was an admission of guilt (several times over), she made an amended report on Friday October 16th (which can be seen here). Didn’t hear about it? Well, now you have. And I’m sure the Election Committee when they meet on Monday October 19th to look over campaign reports will see these mistakes.
A couple of months back there was this rumor going around about two candidates in particular getting shady under the table contributions from outside organizations. Those two candidates were Karen Benker and Kaye Fissinger, the organizations were MoveOn.Org and ProgressNow (or ThinkProgress). After seeing the initial campaign reports, those rumors appeared to be just that, rumors. But Ms. Fissinger’s amended report re-opens the possibility these rumors were true.
It’s expensive to violate the LFCPA
Something that wasn’t reported in the initial report were three so-called loans Ms. Fissinger made to herself. The dates and amounts of these loans were: 8/20/09 $579.35, 9/4/09 $231, 10/9/09 $94.54 – totaling $904.89. As you can clearly see, these were all made before the 10/13/09 reporting date. If this money was received through some intermediary, like one of the organizations above, this would be what the Longmont Fair Campaigns Act (LFCPA) classifies as a “conduit“. Section 2.204.211(C)4 of the LFCPA has a penalty for “acting as a conduit” at $400 for each violation. $400 x 3 = $1,200 fine.
But let’s say it was an honest mistake in reporting, that there was no shady conduit-like contributions. Failing to file a contribution falls under 2.04.211(C)5, the penalty is $100/day for each violation. 3 violations x 3 days = $900 fine.
What else was possibly violated? 2.04.207(A)1(c) was also violated for 3 days as the incorrect amounts were reported for total of contributions reported (loans), expenditures made (incorrectly denoted in original campaign report as “In-Kind Contributions), and balance of funds at end of reporting period (off by $25.95). There are no specific fines for these types of mistakes entered on campaign reports, so 2.204.211(C)13 (“Any violation of this Act not otherwise set forth herein”) may need to be applied, which is $100. The Election Committee needs to determine how many of these “not otherwise set” kinds of violations occurred. There are at least three violations in this area = $300 fine.
Lastly, 2.04.204(G) (promissory note or report on a form filed with City Clerk for candidate loan to themselves) was also violated. 2.04.207(A)1 of the LFCPA states this shall be reported on the 21st day before the election. The penalty for not filing this report 2.204.211(C)1 is $400/day, 3 days elapsed before this report was made. The Election Committee needs to determine if this is three (3) separate reports (although they each have different dates as noted above) or one(1) report of three (3) loans. The total fine is either $1,200 or $400.
The Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act was amended to get this kind of shady campaign activity out of our local elections. It’s ironic (but not really) that someone like Ms. Fissinger, who essentially screamed from the podium in favor of this ordinance, will probably be the first to be found in violation of it. By my math, there’s the potential for $3,600 in fines. Maybe it’s time for a new round of “loans“.
As an aside, none of the above violations are part of the lawsuit or possible preliminary injunction of the LFCPA by the plaintiffs in the case (which includes myself). So even if the judge in this case grants us a preliminary injunction, the above possible violations can still be acted on from the Election Committee. The others brought forward by Karen Benker would be subject to the injunction as they pertain to Independent Expenditures.
During my last months as Longmont’s mayor, a few people made it their business every week during council meetings and almost daily in the blogs, to launch personal attacks, lies and innuendo against me, other council members, businesses and others. At the time, many people asked me why I chose not to use my discretion as mayor to suppress attacks during meetings. My answer was always the same – people have the right to express what they wish, even though I may have thought their speech was politically motivated, downright deceptive or derogatory in the extreme.
If we set up laws, committees or regulators of “rightness,” we empower them to decide what we should hear based upon their own biases and motivations. We lose the battle to maintain our freedom to speak without threat of retribution or fines. Rather than government oversight, it is up to each listener to be their own regulator – for each individual to judge the value of the speech, its truth, and yes, the character of those speaking.
Many years ago, a singular piece of federal legislation was proposed for adoption. This legislation was of such importance that one citizen decided extraordinary amounts of personal time and money must be dedicated to persuade the public on its merits. He decided to publish a series of papers promoting adoption of the legislation. For whatever reason, he wrote anonymously. He contracted with printers and enlisted a couple of personal and political friends to assist.
This series became the famous Federalist Papers written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, supporting adoption of the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the Papers were “The best commentary on the principles of government which was ever written.” 84 papers were published under the pseudonym “Publius.”
Had Hamilton tried to publish the Federalist Papers in Longmont today, under the Longmont “Fair” Campaign Practices Act he would have been threatened and “… fined for [his] political views” (August 2009 City Line) to the tune of $200 per day, because he didn’t report to the City clerk first, note on each paper how much they cost (he didn’t know how many he would publish), and notify candidates and committees of his activities. As a people, we have forgotten that good arguments have the real power to persuade and that no amount of regulation, red tape and reporting will promote public understanding.
Instead of clarifying the City’s position on the lawsuit’s allegations, our City posts threats for non-compliance in newsletters and on TV, and our City attorney plays politics, shown clearly in the Times Call article of October 3rd. The article states City attorney Mei finds the timing of the lawsuit “curious” and wonders why plaintiffs wouldn’t just ask the clerk what they can or can’t do. “Instead, they chose to make this into a much bigger deal.” Sorry Mr. Mei, but I think first amendment violations by City government are a big deal.
Resolving the violations in the LFCPA would benefit everyone in Longmont, not just one faction or another – that is the whole point. Rather than follow their current lawsuit-happy path (note the City demanded that this local issue be removed to federal court), there is a simple, lower cost option for the Council to pursue. Acknowledge that there may be legitimate concerns, roll back the amendments to the LFCPA that violate first amendment rights and ask the election commission to craft a piece of legislation that passes constitutional muster. If the “curious” summer amendments to the LFCPA really weren’t politically motivated by some members of our current Council, they should not have any problem with taking another look at legitimate citizen concerns.
Politics in Longmont are getting more political by the minute. Latest example is the work of the City Council’s handpicked Election Committee, which met for the first time on Oct. 12 to determine which complaints out of several filed by a disgruntled councilwoman against her political enemies were worthy of pursuit. They accepted two for further action. Unfortunately, by the committee’s lawyer telling the committee members–who at the next step will serve as both judge and jury–that they should assume “that all facts stated in the written complaints are true,” this quasi-judicial process has the markings of a kangaroo court.
Bolstering that assumption are two more items: the committee’s willingness to accept amendments to complaints already filed (where do the accusations end?); and the possible prejudice of an Election Committee member who intimated that she may have already made up her mind about one of the complaints, a complicated political issue involving a poll, saying the complainant’s name was used “as many as five times.” Keep in mind that the Longmont citizens who are defendants in this process are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The complainant promises to keep using this special committee to file more charges. Who’s the next victim of Longmont’s repressive Fair Campaign Practices ordinance?
Res. Bldr. County 44 yrs.,
7 of them in Longmont.
For Release: September 18, 2009
Contact: Bob Askey
Phone: (303) 416-4307
Council warns citizens: “Don’t get fined for your political views”
LONGMONT – On Friday the Longmont City Council’s Fair Campaign Practices Act drew a lawsuit alleging that it violated First Amendment rights of individuals and organizations.
“Unfortunately, the Longmont City Council passed an incredibly restrictive set of campaign finance laws. This is a blatant attack on free speech. It limits the ability of citizens to discuss and criticize their elected officials, making it harder to hold politicians accountable – which we consider an egregious abuse of power.” said former Mayor Bob Askey, speaking for one of the plaintiffs.
“It might as well be called what it really is: The Longmont Incumbency Protection Act,” Askey added.
In August, the City of Longmont followed up with a warning notice in all utility bills, declaring that citizens could be fined for exercising their free speech, and it further directed that readers to “contact the city clerk” before engaging in any political communications.
“We think the city grossly misrepresented their own law, attempting to enforce it in an unconstitutional manner. The warning creates a real threat of prosecution for those trying to constitutionally exercise their right to free speech” said Scott Gessler, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit challenges several provisions in the city code, including restrictions on electioneering communications, compelled notices on political advertising, and regulations applying to groups that were never intended to act as political committees.
“One has to wonder why the Council is so worried about free speech,” said Donny Ferguson, of Western Tradition Partnership. “This city council has attacked private property rights and then attempted to interfere in neighboring communities’ growth plans, and we believe people should know about that. Once they won office, this council tried to silence opposition by making issue discussion a minefield.”
Plaintiffs on the suit are Western Tradition Partnership (a grassroots non-profit focused on land and natural resource issues), Longmont Leadership Committee represented by former city Mayor Bob Askey, Longmont Area Realtors, former Mayor Julia Pirnack, and activist/blogger Chris Rodriguez who runs LongmontAdvocate.com.
To learn more about Western Tradition Partnership, visit www.blog.westerntradition.org
To learn more about the Longmont Area Realtors, go to www.longmontrealtors.com
To learn more about the Longmont Leadership Committee, go to www.longmontleadership.com
Chris Rodriguez’ blog can be found at www.LongmontAdvocate.com
Wow, it has been a busy couple weeks in town on the 1st Amendment front for the City Council Bloc of 4 and its surrogates! Both the city and its supporters are suddenly actively seeking to prevent and stifle exchange of information and free expression of ideas.
In an attempt to disenfranchise the citizens of Longmont by eschewing a public, permanent record of city business as called for by the city charter, they’ve called to quit publishing city notices in the newspaper. Instead, they are tossing around the idea of internet only, or putting it in the City Line with your electric bill (which only comes once a month, I believe). Continue reading
The new Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act (LFCPA) apparently has some detractors. I received a copy of the following complaint:
Citizens for Liberty
How often do you see quality videos for candidates or issues right here in Longmont? (Not counting craptastic anti-religious rantings, which of course are not quality). Well, here’s one for a certain city councilman who’s up for re-election. Enjoy.
As the video says, “Produced by Longmont Advocate and not authorized by any candidate or candidates committee IAW LFCPA Pg 3.” What’s that? That’s the new Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act (IAW means In accordance with), to some meant to even the playing field, but in reality it complicates things so much that your average citizen will just avoid doing anything related to elections, including and most importantly excercising their Freedom of Speech. That includes donating how ever much money you like, within reason, but who defines “reasonable”?
But as you know, I write opinion and commentary, here and several other places including in print in the Times-Call and YourHub (Denver Post). I also did podcasts, or audio commentary, and lately commentary through videos. I’ve been doing this for several years, not just around election time. But back to this LFCPA Pg 3, it talks about “electioneering“, and more importantly what shall not be considered an “electioneering communication“:
1. Any news articles, editorial endorsements, opinion or commentary writings, including all electronic communication, or letters to the editor printed in a newspaper, magazine or other periodical not owned or controlled by a candidate, or agent of a candidate committee, issue committee or political committee;
2. Any endorsements or opinions aired by any broadcast facility, including cable or satellite not owned or controlled by a candidate or agent of a candidate committee, issue committee or political committee; or
3. Any communication by persons made in the regular course and scope of their business or any communication made by a membership organization solely to members of such organization and their families. (emphasis added)
I think that about covers me, as I’m not owned or controlled by anyone, nor am I an agent for anyone or anything – except the excercising of free speech. I also didn’t spend any money making this and future videos, or got paid to do it. I don’t have to pay to distribute these writings, audio or video, but I may play along with this silly “indicia” the city has instituted – which is sort of like a trademark signifying you’ve registered with the City Clerk. But I think that’s geared more towards 527’s, which I’m not. But you never know, I may want to make my own mailers, which will cost money.
Go read the new ordinance, see if it will make you want to participate more in the process, or less. My guess is less, which is exactly how incumbents want it to be. Better yet, test it in court, I’m sure someone will sooner or later.