Citizens United v. Gessler, No. 14-1387 (10th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Since 2004, Citizens United has produced and released 24 films on various political and religious topics. Citizens United completed a 30-minute film called "Rocky Mountain Heist," the subject of which was the alleged impact of various advocacy groups on Colorado government and public policy. The film and some of its advertising unambiguously referred to elected Colorado officials then-running for office in the general election and included footage of events where participants advocated the election or defeat of Colorado candidates. As such, "Rocky Mountain Heist" came under provisions of Colorado’s campaign-practices laws that required certain disclosures with respect to what were termed “electioneering communications” and “independent expenditures.” Citizens United brought suit against the Colorado Secretary of State federal district court to challenge under the First Amendment the disclosure provisions both on their face and as applied to Citizens United because it was treated differently from various media that are exempted from the provisions. It sought a preliminary injunction against enforcing the provisions that did not apply to exempted media. The district court denied relief, and Citizens United appealed. After review, though the Tenth Circuit agreed with much of what the district court said, it reversed: on the record, Citizens United would likely prevail on the merits, and therefore was entitled to a preliminary injunction. "In light of (1) the Colorado disclosure exemptions for printed periodicals, cable and over-the-air broadcasters, and Internet periodicals and blogs, (2) the rationale presented for these exemptions, and (3) Citizen United’s history of producing and distributing two dozen documentary films over the course of a decade, the Secretary has not shown a substantial relation between a sufficiently important governmental interest and the disclosure requirements that follow from treating Rocky Mountain Heist as an 'electioneering communication' or treating the costs of producing and distributing the film as an 'expenditure' under Colorado’s campaign laws."