Clear the Bench Colorado's Matt Arnold on campaign complaint about

Matt Arnold of Clear the Bench Colorado, which aims to throw the bums off Colorado's Supreme Court, calls himself an "Army of one" -- and appropriately, he's been in plenty of battles lately. After losing a round to Colorado Ethics Watch and being forced to identify as a political committee, he's targeting the organizations behind, filing a complaint charging them with breaking the same rule despite their assertion that they're merely an educational campaign.

The groups, which include the Colorado Bar Association, the Colorado Judicial Institute and the League of Women Voters of Colorado, "violated Colorado campaign finance laws," Arnold asserts. "And they're lawyers, so they ought to know better.

"They think they're being clever to express advocacy to vote," he continues. "But if you go to their website and click through" -- to the page for the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation, "you get their recommendations -- which are to retain all three Supreme Court judges on the ballot this year."

Arnold concedes that the organizations "have the right to express their opinion, but they have to follow the same rules that I do. And instead, they've chosen to intentionally violate the rules and spend this money without the proper accountability."

Not so, believes Mark Grueskin, an attorney involved in the formation of the Colorado Judiciary Project, an organization also pushing voter education when it comes to judicial election, but one not named in Arnold's latest complaint.

Responding as a lawyer rather than a spokesman for CJP, he says, "The difference between what Clear the Bench is doing and what this group appears to be doing is clear. This group is geared to educating voters about resources they can use in making their decisions -- and no one would quibble with the fact that Clear the Bench has been a 'vote-no' organization since day one. They decided to campaign against the three Supreme Court justices before they even decided to put their names on the ballot for retention.

"I'm not affiliated with or any of the named respondents, other than the fact that I belong to the Colorado Bar Association by virtue of being a lawyer," he continues. "But from what I've seen of their website, all these groups have done is show people resources they can use to be more informed in the retention election. To the best of my knowledge, none of them, individually or as a group, has urged voters to do anything other than be knowledgeable and vote. So this complaint is empty."

Arnold believes otherwise, asserting that the named organizations could face huge penalties as a result of their failure to file as a political committee. "They've been closely following what happened with me, and they've been snickering about it," he alleges. "But they're subject to the same $525 per-person-per-cycle limits as I am. And if, as I understand, the Colorado Bar Association contributed $50,000 to this campaign, it's about $49,475 over the limit. So you could see fines tacking up pretty high, pretty fast."

As for Arnold's feelings about tomorrow's elections, he says he's "cautiously optimistic" his message has gotten out, despite all the legal hurdles that have been placed before him over the past several months. He adds that "this is a case of the underdog taking on the giants -- but they're in the wrong. They're violating the rules, and they're not above the law."

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Colorado Ethics Watch wins Clear the Bench case, but still may have to pay some legal fees."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts