Matt Arnold reputedly resides on the political right, but over the years the pugnacious political activist has stirred at least as much controversy — and drawn as much fire from detractors — within his own philosophical ranks as he has across Colorado’s political landscape in general. Now, a national magazine of libertarian bent is calling him out for using the same court system he rails against to shut down his opponents.
Arnold’s Clear the Bench Colorado has made a name for itself and Arnold by skewering Colorado jurists and calling for their ouster in the state’s biennial judicial-retention elections. The advocacy group’s motto: “Returning accountability to our judicial system…bringing back balance to the bench.”
Writing in the January issue of Reason magazine, Nick Sibilla and John Kerr of the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice say it’s abuses of the court system by guys like Arnold that really need reining in. The Reason report, “Can’t Afford a Lawyer? No Free Speech for You / Colorado campaign finance regulations censor ordinary citizens,” bashes the state’s wide-open system for filing campaign-finance complaints enacted under Amendment 27 in 2002 and contends it invites purely political manipulation. Arnold — who also runs Campaign Integrity Watchdog — is Exhibit A.
Arnold… is responsible for more campaign finance complaints in Colorado than anyone else. Out of the more than 340 complaints that have been filed since Amendment 27 passed 14 years ago, more than 50 were filed by him or his Campaign Integrity Watchdog group. As Arnold once explained, the campaign finance system is a tool for waging “political guerrilla legal warfare (a.k.a. Lawfare)” against one’s opponents.
The Reason article offers an indictment of the system for which it sees Arnold as the poster child. The authors explain:
Proponents of campaign finance regulations cite the need to combat “dark money.” Amendment 27 was passed explicitly in part to curb the perceived power and influence of “wealthy individuals, corporations, and special interest groups.” But the sheer pettiness of so many complaints reveals that, in fact, the law invites intimidation and reprisals against those who try to exercise their First Amendment rights. The resulting burden falls hardest on the very people that campaign finance laws purport to protect: ordinary citizens, grassroots activists, and small groups.
The article recalls Arnold’s own failed bid in the 2012 GOP primary for a seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents, a race in which he at one point admitted he had misstated finishing his master’s thesis. Although he lost the race, he went after an opposing political committee in court, filing a series of complaints that the Reason article credits with ultimately shutting the committee down. The authors then note, “But that only prompted Arnold’s fourth complaint. He now claims that a lawyer had helped (the group) file for termination and that the lawyer’s pro bono aid amounted to a political ‘contribution’ that should have been reported.” That one is still in court.
The authors also touch on Arnold’s epic feud with his own party, earning him the enmity of many Colorado Republicans. They recount his 2015 complaint against the state GOP for failing to disclose some details about its contributors. As the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins reported last February, Arnold at one point had made a “settlement offer” to the party that came across a whole lot like a solicitation to the party to enlist his services for a $10,000 campaign audit. Critics saw it as a shakedown. An email from Arnold to the party, released to Hutchins by the GOP, stated in part:
I’m willing to offer this generous deal in the interest of avoiding disruption to what is, after all, MY party — albeit a party that has proven less than faithful in fulfilling its obligations to me and mine — in a critical election year. But, Bygones… IF we can reach an agreement. Alternatively, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” 😉
GOP state Chair Steve House also released a statement to Hutchins, denouncing Arnold as, “an individual who claims he’s about ‘integrity,’ but in actuality is more interested in enriching himself at the expense of the Colorado Republican Party.”
It’s perhaps worth noting that despite Campaign Integrity Watchdog’s “.org” domain, it is in fact a money-making limited-liability company registered with the Colorado secretary of state.
Here’s the link again to the full article in Reason.