Coalition for Secular Govt v. Williams, No. 14-1469 (10th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams appealed a district court order enjoining him from enforcing Colorado's issue-committee registration and disclosure requirements against the Coalition for Secular Government (Coalition), a nonprofit corporation that was planning to advocate against a statewide ballot initiative in the 2014 general election. Under Colorado law, the Coalition's activities triggered various issue-committee registration and disclosure requirements. Once a person or group of persons qualified as an issue committee under this definition, a substantial set of registration and disclosure requirements apply. Since 2008, the Coalition has either registered or considered registering as an issue committee in four general elections: 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014. As the 2012 election neared, the Coalition filed in federal district court a declaratory-judgment suit against Scott Gessler, the then-Colorado Secretary of State. Among other relief, the Coalition requested the court to declare that the Coalition's "expected activity of $3,500 does not require registration as an issue committee." Because a certain constitutional amendment (the "personhood amendment") failed to qualify for the general-election ballot, the Coalition had neither registered as an issue committee nor published an updated policy paper. After the Colorado Supreme Court's decision in "Gessler v. Colorado Common Cause," (327 P.3d 232 (Colo. 2014)), the Coalition renewed its preliminary-injunction motion in federal district court. By then, the personhood amendment had qualified for the 2014 general-election ballot, and Dr. Diana Hsieh (Coalition founder) and her co-author again wanted to update and expand the policy paper urging readers to vote "no" on the latest iteration of the personhood ballot initiative. The district court consolidated the hearing on the preliminary-injunction motion with a hearing on the merits of the case. As Dr. Hsieh testified at the hearing, the Coalition planned to raise about $1,500 in 2014 to fund the policy paper but still opposed registering as an issue committee. By October 3, 2014, the day of the preliminary-injunction hearing, the Coalition had already received pledges totaling about $2,000. On October 10, 2014, the district court "ORDERED and DECLARED that [the Coalition]'s expected activity of $3,500 does not require registration or disclosure as an 'issue committee' and the Secretary is ENJOINED from enforcing" Colorado's disclosure requirements against the Coalition. The Secretary appealed the district court's order granting the Coalition declaratory and injunctive relief, presenting as grounds for appeal: (1) whether Colorado's $200 threshold for issue-committee registration and reporting violated the First Amendment; and (2) could Colorado require issue-committee registration and disclosure for a group that raises and spends $3,500 to influence an election on a statewide ballot initiative? The Tenth Circuit concluded that Colorado's issue-committee regulatory framework was unconstitutional as applied to the Coalition. Therefore it did not address the facial validity of the $200 threshold.