Bruce avoids contempt charges while leaving his partners holding the bag
Despite encouraging signs that Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101— the financial time-bombs conservacranks have launched to wreck Colorado state and local governments — are heading toward defeat, it is way too soon to declare victory.
The stealthy operators who slipped these pernicious proposals through regulatory cracks under a cloak of anonymity will seize any opportunity to regain their lost momentum. Only vigilance against their unscrupulous tactics will ensure a victory for responsible and effective government on Nov. 2.
Some principled citizens who have tax issues use the Constitution as a shield behind which to stand in support of their rights. This is not true of the anonymous backers of 60, 61 and 101. They use the Constitution as a sheet behind which to hide the identities of those who paid to put the issues on the ballot.
Not that we don’t know at least the ring leaders of the group behind the anti-tax initiatives. Last June, Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer found that three of the proponents of the ballot initiatives were working secretly in concert with notorious anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce.
After months of stonewalling, Bruce finally appeared before Judge Spencer, but refused to reveal the source of funding for the petitions. His repeated refusal to answer summons led Attorney General John Suthers to file contempt of court charges against Bruce. The charges were dismissed by a federal court.
Relying on other evidence, Judge Spencer determined Bruce was the mysterious “Mr. X” who secretly directed his co-conspirators by e-mail. The three proponents of the Bruce proposals admitted they took their instructions from Mr. X, but claimed they neither knew nor cared who provided the money, or who was responsible for the website.
Bruce’s trio of accomplices was found guilty of contempt of court charges. Judge Spencer found their claims not to know who paid to print petitions for the signature campaign “evasive and unbelievable.” The judge ruled they joined with Bruce in a “concerted effort to thwart” campaign finance reporting requirements.
The judge also ruled that they should have formed an issue committee and reported their contributions and expenditures related to the campaign to pass the initiatives.
Each of the three was fined $2000, but none of the fines have been paid as of last week. Continued lack of compliance with campaign finance rules has swelled their collective fine to $30,000.
Playing for time, the three have appealed the verdict and fine. According to Mark Grueskin, spokesman for business and civic leaders opposed to the ballot issues, “It appears that the whole point of the appeal is for the true backers of the three measures to hide in the shadows and remain anonymous until after the election.”
Despite the obvious evasion of campaign financing rules, Judge Spencer’s rulings will not affect the initiatives themselves. In spite of the corruption in which they were conceived, the poisoned well from which they sprung, and the deception by which they were promoted, they could become the law of the state.
As important as the outcome of the vote to cut state and local government below their minimum needs is, addressing the lax campaign rules that allow proponents of a constitutional amendment or state regulation to use patently illegal tactics to put a measure on the ballot demands equal attention.
If the Court of Appeals finds no merit in the claim of the three obstructionist sponsors that Judge Spencer violated their constitutional rights, their return to court should be unforgettable. Judge Spencer should use them to send a message to others who would game the system that these tactics will not be tolerated.
At a minimum, the judge should see that each defendant pays a full share of the accumulated outstanding fines, as well as a portion of accrued court costs. Hopefully, the judge will be able to augment that punishment sufficiently to discourage similar tactics by other campaigns in the future.
Meantime, while his foot soldiers are left swinging in the wind, Douglas Bruce emerges from the chaos he has created unscathed. His amendments continue to threaten the future of Colorado.
The strongest repudiation of the unscrupulous political tactics Bruce has used to force his will on the state will be an overwhelming voter rejection of Amendment 60 and 61, and Proposition 101 at the polls.