Court lifts ban on some donations

Labor unions, businesses and other contributors that have sole-source government contracts won’t have to worry about the campaign donations they make.

That’s because the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday struck down Amendment 54, which barred contributions to candidates from anyone who has a contract that was won without competitive bidding. Voters approved the constitutional ballot question in 2008.

In a 4–1 ruling, the high court said that while the amendment had a legitimate intent, it was poorly written.

“Despite the constitutionality of some limited phrases and portions, we hold Amendment 54 so incomplete or riddled with omissions that it cannot be salvaged ... as a meaningful legislative enactment,” Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey wrote in the majority ruling. “We find it impossible to achieve Amendment 54’s legitimate purpose without substantially rewriting the amendment from the bench.”

Justice Alex Martinez cast the sole dissenting vote. Justices Nathan Coats and Allison Eid did not participate in the case.

In his dissent, Martinez said he disagreed the amendment was written that badly.

“The majority’s analysis provides very little guidance to those who would seek to construct a constitutional proposal addressing the appearance of impropriety related to sole-source government contracts,” Martinez wrote. “Although I agree with the majority that Amendment 54 suffers from some constitutional deficiencies, I do not agree they are so pervasive that the amendment cannot be salvaged.”

Supporters of the measure, which passed with 51 percent of the vote, have said it was designed to block the appearance that those who won sole-source contracts from government entities were getting them because of campaign support they gave candidates.

Opponents of the idea, however, said it was aimed squarely at labor unions, such as firefighter organizations and the Colorado Education Association.

“The authors of Amendment 54 tried to silence political speakers they don’t like, but they ran into a little roadblock called the First Amendment and, fortunately for all of us, they have failed,” said Denver attorney Mark Grueskin, who represented some of the plaintiffs.

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which defended the ballot question, said the outcome was not unexpected, its spokesman, Mike Saccone, said.

In June, a Denver district court judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the amendment from being implemented. With its ruling, the high court made that injunction permanent.


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