Judge grants Coffman’s request to block part of new Aurora law

BY FREDA MIKLIN – GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER

On May 28, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Peter Michaelson issued an order that included a preliminary injunction barring implementation of some parts of a campaign finance reform ordinance passed by the Aurora City Council last November. 

Mike Coffman was elected mayor of Aurora in 2019, after serving ten years in Congress.

The order was in response to a lawsuit filed on March 17 by Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman against the city. The suit claimed that the new law “prohibits Mayor Coffman (and others like him) from doing anything effective to campaign for another candidate or in support of a ballot issue. In essence, it unconstitutionally restricts the rights to free speech and association for both candidates in the current election cycle and others who could potentially run in some future election.” Coffman’s suit also said that he was seeking “to protect Aurora citizens’ ability to fully evaluate candidates and ballot issues without the government telling them what information they can and cannot hear and consider.”

The Villager has not yet been able to obtain the complete order, but the judge has been quoted as saying, in part, “To make that conclusion would require the Court to accept the dubious premise that incumbents are all corrupt and only self-funded candidates, or those with support from outside the community and without the need to associate with existing elected officials, are pure.”

Mayor Coffman said, in response to the judge’s ruling, “These extreme rules are designed specifically to deny me the fundamental right to publicly support candidates or ballot initiatives. I’m grateful that the Court has granted an injunction suspending these rules while our lawsuit to have them declared unconstitutional continues.”

Last November, during the debate on the ordinance before it was passed, Mayor Coffman, who had turned over the gavel to Council-
member Angela Lawson so that he could actively participate in the discussion, proposed an amendment to eliminate a section that he said precluded anyone with an active campaign committee from having “a role in other campaigns or even issue committees,” because, he said, “That is really a First Amendment violation.”  

Councilmember Juan Marcano, a sponsor of the ordinance, responded at the time that he was confident that the language did not violate the First Amendment, adding, “The intent of that section is to avoid the appearance of impropriety.” 

Mayor Coffman then challenged the bill’s two sponsors to identify any other jurisdiction that had a similar provision in its municipal code. When neither Marcano nor the co-sponsor of the bill, City Councilmember Nicole Johnston, who is resigning her position on the council on June 15 to move to Colorado Springs, could name any other locale that prohibited anyone with a campaign committee from having a role in promoting another candidate seeking office, Coffman said, “I believe it is unique to this particular campaign finance reform and I believe that it targets me directly and it was written for that very purpose.”

Coffman was elected Aurora mayor in 2019. His term ends in 2023, when he will be eligible for re-election. One of the issues around this ordinance involves the manner in which Coffman is able to support other candidates, especially for the Aurora City Council, in the election this November. 

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