In proceedings that were followed by few in the media and perhaps even fewer anywhere else, an administrative law judge in Denver wrapped up a hearing Thursday into yet another campaign-finance complaint by political gadfly Matt Arnold. His target this time? An advocacy group led by GOP mover and shaker Bob Beauprez.
After two days of testimony on Arnold’s allegations that Beauprez’s Colorado Pioneer Action should have registered as a political committee during the 2016 election cycle under campaign laws, Judge Robert Spencer declared the court had run out of time. The judge told both sides to email in their closing arguments by next Friday; his ruling will follow at some point thereafter.
Yet, even with Pioneer’s fate still pending — it faces fines if the complaint is upheld — Arnold himself already has managed to incur a rebuke, and a penalty, from the court. Acting on a motion from Pioneer’s attorney on the hearing’s first day, a visibly irritated Spencer chastised the irrepressible Arnold for divulging financial information he had obtained from Pioneer through subpoena. That violated the judge’s spoken and later, written, order that any information derived from Arnold’s subpoena be used only for purposes of arguing his case in court. Not, as it turned out, for smearing one of his own witnesses he had subpoenaed to testify.
That would be me. As noted here before, your humble blogger previously worked as a self-employed consultant and at one point was paid by Pioneer for some ad hoc investigative journalism. I was looking into ethical issues surrounding a couple of elected officials. Arnold now wanted to question me under oath.
And he used his subpoena to Pioneer to get a hold of copies of its checks to me, purportedly to use them in building his case that the organization was engaged in election activities for which it should have registered as a political committee. I can’t see how either my testimony or the paychecks helped make his case; to be sure, Arnold feels otherwise. The judge will decide.
But Arnold also gave the information to a reporter at the Colorado Springs Independent who published a story revealing what I was paid by Pioneer. The story got back to the judge by way of Pioneer’s court motion, and the judge was steamed. He told Arnold that if administrative law judges had contempt powers, he would have cited him for contempt. Instead, he had to settle for requiring Arnold to pick up a small portion of Pioneer’s legal fees.
Which isn’t to say the judge was defending my honor. In fact, he scolded me, too, for emailing the court that morning to bring Arnold’s misconduct to his attention. I didn’t realize that was a breach of procedure and also wasn’t aware Pioneer already had raised the issue the right way. Unlike Arnold — a layman who does all his own lawyering — I don’t kid myself I’m an attorney.
At any rate, I’ll take the development as a sort of vindication. After all, I was called as a mere witness — only to be turned into a target.
Arnold’s motivation for airing my onetime pay in the press? As also noted here before, it could have been my blogging about him and his tactics over the past few months on ColoradoPolitics.com. He suggests as much in an earlier motion he submitted to the court asking the judge to end his restriction on disclosure of the subpoenaed documents. In his motion, he cites some of my recent blog posts for “…attacking, smearing, and attempting to defame Campaign Integrity Watchdog and its officer Matt Arnold…” The judge denied Arnold’s motion. Of course, Arnold disclosed the information in the subpoenaed documents, anyway.
While Arnold awaits an answer on the merits of his complaint against Pioneer, he can bide his time attending to some of the other complaints he has lodged against assorted other targets. There are plenty. By the latest tally using the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office website, Arnold and his business, Campaign Integrity Watchdog LLC, have filed some 67 complaints under Colorado’s campaign-finance laws since early 2014, and he has 10 active cases, including Pioneer’s, pending right now.
Of course, Arnold is the same guy who was profiled in the January issue of Reason magazine for having filed more campaign-finance complaints than anyone else since the state’s current law on the subject was adopted by voters in 2002. That dubious distinction, the article’s authors contended, not only reflected poorly on Arnold but also pointed to the need to reform the law itself.
The authors say the ability of any private party to file an election-related complaint under Colorado’s campaign-finance law and have it referred straight to court — without any of the kinds of pre-screening common to other states — invites manipulation and abuse by political interests and their operatives.
Many longtime Colorado critics of the current regime agree, and they add that the law’s frequent exploitation for political gain — to conjure up “gotchas” against political rivals — clogs the courts and burns out judges.
Worse still, they say, is this irony: A “reform” that was supposed to clean up politics has actually provided a means for shrewd political players to make it dirtier.