Clear the Bench Colorado's Matt Arnold in catch-22 over orders from elections division

Clear the Bench Colorado, which aims to throw the bums off the Colorado Supreme Court, recently lost a court challenge from Colorado Ethics Watch and now must file with the Secretary of State's office as a political committee, not an issues committee. And while that may sound like a technical matter, it's become more than that thanks to new dictates from Judd Choate, the state's elections division director.

A CEW release about the Choate letter says Clear the Bench "should have been filing according to the schedule involved on active committees according to the schedule imposed on active committees, and not on the quarterly schedule for inactive issue committees" because "it is actively involved in the 2010 election."

CEW director Luis Toro notes that his organization didn't make this argument part of its court complaint against Clear the Bench -- "but even under the view of them being an issues committee, they should have been filing regularly. And it was news to me that the Secretary of State's Office sent them a letter in November of 2009 asking if they would be active, and they didn't respond to it."

That's not the way Clear the Bench's Matt Arnold remembers it. He says he's complied with every directive given him, and he plans to keep up that philosophy despite the change in his committee's status. But following the rest of Choate's edicts will be a challenge.

"The letter puts us in a real pickle," Arnold maintains. "It pretty much says that despite the fact that the judge has ordered us to change our committee designation from issue to political, and despite the fact that I complied with that ruling and submitted paperwork to that effect, and despite the fact that the Secretary of State's office accepted it as a new committee, they're telling us none of the assets or resources from the old committee can be transferred over to the new committee."

The exception: If Arnold appeals the decision forcing the switch and wins a temporary injunction. But he says he can't afford to do that unless he's paid the legal fees CEW owes him for an earlier decision that preceded the one in which Clear the Bench lost. Problem is, CEW wasn't required to file its paperwork about that debt until today, and a judge must review it before deciding how much Arnold will actually receive.

Toro thinks Arnold's poverty cries are dubious: He believes Arnold hasn't been billed for the lion's share of the legal work done earlier this year on his behalf and isn't tens of thousands of dollars in the hole, as he's suggested. Arnold swears otherwise and expresses frustration with the situation.

"It's a complete fiasco," he says. "I can see now why fewer individual citizens try to get involved in the process. They make the rules so difficult, make them so convoluted, and then they change their mind anyway."

More on this topic from our Follow That Story archives: "Clear the Bench's Matt Arnold: Court win for CO Ethics Watch a victory for big $ over little guy."