Buried in the deep black news-hole that was the Friday after Christmas Day came a decision in a Colorado campaign finance case filed against bare-knuckles right-wing political group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer found that mailer campaigns put together by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the Colorado Campaign for Life violated Colorado’s disclosure laws and ordered the groups each to pay $8450 each in fines.
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has long been a bruising — some would say bullying — force in Colorado conservative politics. The group aims to move the state Republican Party to the right by targeting candidates and lawmakers that seem “soft” on what it considers core issues like gun rights and abortion. The group also opposes campaign finance disclosure laws as a whole, seeing them as a violation of First Amendment protections on free speech.
From Colorado Ethics Watch's release, that argument didn't wash:
CCL and RMGO hired a Washington, DC-area law firm to file a federal lawsuit against Ethics Watch and the Colorado Secretary of State to block the hearing, argung that Colorado's disclosure law is unconstitutional. On December 16, federal judge Robert E. Blackburn allowed the case to proceed in state administrative court, noting that Judge Spencer has jurisdiction to resolve at least some of CCL's and RMGO's First Amendment challenges to Colorado law. In his ruling, Judge Spencer rejected all of CCL's and RMGO's arguments that the First Amendment allows them to electioneer without obeying Colorado disclosure laws about money in politics.
The unfortunate fact is that an $8,450 fine is not nearly enough to deter an organization like Rocky Mountain Gun Owners from violating Colorado campaign finance disclosure laws in the future. After the 2013 battle of gun safety legislation in the Colorado legislature, RMGO raised vast sums of money, and a fine of this size can be easily built into their operating budget without any real impact on their operations–and that's assuming the fines aren't waived by an accommodating Secretary of State, like we've had for four years and are about to inaugurate for another four.
But the real irony of this may be that RMGO's violations of Colorado campaign finance law, long a bête noire of Colorado Republicans, were for attacks on fellow Republicans. RMGO sent the mailings in question in support of their favored GOP primary candidates in Senate Districts 19 and 22–Laura
Waters Woods and Tony Sanchez respectively. In both cases, these hard-right Republicans beat establishment candidates who were considered much more electable in the general election. Sanchez went on to be defeated by incumbent Andy Kerr, and while Waters Woods narrowly ousted SD-19's appointed Democrat, Republicans would feel much more comfortable defending that seat in two years had Lang Sias won this year's primary. The large sum Republicans spent trying to defend Sias in particular from RMGO's onslaught is a major sore point today–and without that backing for Woods in 2016, Democratic odds improve further for swiftly retaking this critical swing seat.
Looking back at their last two years, no one can discount RMGO's formidability as a political force in Colorado. This organization that uses the tagline "I Will Not Comply" has proven they mean it, especially when it comes to intra-GOP politics. But from walking embarrassments Sen. Vicki Marble to avoidable losers like Tony Sanchez–not to mention the loss this year of both Senate seats won in last year's recall elections–what RMGO accomplishes outside the bubble of red-on-red infighting is not so easily characterized as a success.
The one thing we know is that this slap on the wrist won't even slow them down.