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Posted: July 20, 2009

Amendment 54 proponents respond to Lemon ruling

Will ruling promote financial corruption at all levels of political system?

Robert M. Liechty

When Judge Catherine A. Lemon placed an injunction on Amendment 54, she broke new legal ground. Colorado voters passed the legislation, which limited campaign contributions by government contractors and their relatives, by 51 percent last fall.

Judge Lemon assumed that political contributions are afforded all the legal protection of political speech. But the U.S. Supreme Court has never gone that far — the most it has said is that contributions are an “attenuated form of speech.” The court has never said that political contributions enjoy the same protection as a politician’s speech.

Therefore, the states, their voters and the federal government can and have placed reasonable limits on political contributions. For instance, candidates in Colorado face limits on the amount that can be received and who may contribute to them. Judge Lemon’s ruling placed an injunction on Amendment 54 without examining this legal precedent.

To use the logic of Judge Lemon and the opponents of Amendment 54, political contributions are speech and therefore are, by extension, granted full First Amendment rights — rights which cannot be limited nor infringed upon.

If her notion that money equals speech stands, prior limitations on campaign contributions may be challenged and Colorado will become the wild, wild West of campaign finance. This “anything goes” environment will promote financial corruption at all levels of our political system.

Candidates would be able to take money from any source, in any amount, and they wouldn’t have to report it. The consequences of equating money with speech are obvious, which is why the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that political speech is only the speech or the message delivered by the candidates or by the advocacy groups themselves.  Based on years of legal precedent, political contributions can be limited because they are not speech.

Using that solid legal footing, Amendment 54 was crafted to address perceived and real corruption that occurs in the government contracting process. Pay-to-play schemes have been around for a long time contributing to the checkered and less-than-flattering opinions of politicians and lobbyists. Jack Abramoff and former Congressman Duke Cunningham are but two of the most notable pay-to-play scammers who have been convicted in recent history.

Once Amendment 54 is upheld in court, honest government contractors will be protected from having to participate in pay-to-play schemes (by making political contributions to get even a chance to land the contract) and the public will know how their tax dollars are being spent with regards to no-bid government contracts.

Voters made the judgment last November that Amendment 54 was good common sense. Let’s hope higher courts can see through the misrepresentations of the opponents of Amendment 54 and beyond the faulty logic of Judge Lemon.

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Robert M. Liechty, Esq., wrote a brief for the proponents of Amendment 54.  E-mail him at rliechty@crossliechty.com.

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