Secret campaign deserves hefty fine
It was welcome news that an administrative law judge in Denver this week fined a charity created by anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce $11,300 for violating state campaign law by pushing three government-crippling ballot measures in November’s election.
Good for Judge Matthew Norwood. Bruce’s group, a supposedly educational nonprofit called Active Citizens Together, certainly deserves significant punishment for attempting to avoid public disclosure of its underwriting of the campaigns for Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.
Norwood determined that ACT spent between $210,000 and $250,000 to gather petition signatures for the three ballot measures and to try to persuade voters to approve them. The group failed in the latter respect. All three ballot measures were overwhelmingly rejected by Colorado voters.
It wasn’t the money the group spent that got it in hot water, however. It was the fact it failed to report to the state what it spent in the effort. In fact, for much of the past year, political experts were unsure of who was behind the three ballot measures, although many speculated Bruce was deeply involved. Court action confirmed the involvement of Bruce and his group.
Norwood’s decision is important, not just for this case. In levying what may be the largest state fine ever against such a group, he sent a message to other groups that want to push measures on the Colorado ballot, but want to keep their participation secret.
As attorney Mark Grueskin told The Gazette of Colorado Springs, “The message here is that you don’t get to run secret political campaigns and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in Colorado politics.” Grueskin represents Coloradans for Responsible Reform, which opposed the three ballot measures.
However, Norwood’s ruling doesn’t mean that Bruce will immediately grab his checkbook to pay the fine. This is the man, after all, who spent months dodging a subpoena ordering him to testify in the case. Additionally, Bruce told The Gazette he plans to disband ACT because the group is broke and it has no money to pay fines. We hope state officials or the organization Grueskin represents will continue to push to see the fine is paid.
Douglas Bruce was once a hero to many Coloradans for his successful effort to get the TABOR Amendment passed in 1992. Since then, his star has dimmed considerably as he pushed several measures to defund government and for embarrassing actions during a brief stint in the state Legislature.
Bruce knows his name is now anathema to many Colorado voters. Based on Norwood’s ruling, it’s evident he and ACT repeatedly missed legal deadlines to file documents that would have showed their involvement with 60, 61 and 101.
Coloradans for Responsible Reform and Judge Norwood deserve credit for making that involvement public.
Transparency is critical to a democratic government and Coloradans have a right to know who is financing campaigns here. Norwood’s ruling will help ensure there is less secrecy in the future.