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September 24, 2010 12:53 AM UTC

Reminder: Flouting Colorado Election Law is Easy and Fun

  • by: Colorado Pols

One of the key themes in the long battle to uncover the backers behind Amendments 61, 61 and Proposition 101 has been the yawning inadequacy of Colorado election law to deter willful violators. It’s simple arithmetic: these initiatives made the ballot on the strength of tens of thousands of signatures–none of the necessary financial backing for that effort has been disclosed, despite daily fines and no small amount of negative press.

And why, you ask?

Because the penalty is so small that backers have less to lose by violation than they do by compliance–not in overhead costs of compliance, of course, but to their reputations as the full devastating effect of these initiatives becomes widely understood by the public.

And as the Durango Herald’s Joe Hanel reports, they’ve started a trend.

Sponsors of a ballot measure on bail bonds have never filed a campaign-finance report despite a large-scale petition drive to put Proposition 102 on the ballot…

The issue exposes the inability of Colorado’s election laws to make sure Colorado voters know who is for and against the issues they will see on the November ballot. It is the second time this election that a group has managed to place questions before voters without revealing who paid for the campaign.

…Duran said he and Donovan paid for the petition campaign, which turned in 170,000 signatures Aug. 2. The official pro-102 campaign, Safe Streets Colorado, did not register until 24 days later, and it still has not filed a campaign-finance report to disclose its donors to the public.

…Testimony in a federal lawsuit this summer revealed that ballot campaigns typically spend $2 or more per signature to professional petition circulators. Duran and Donovan collected 170,000 signatures for Proposition 102 – about 30,000 more signatures than most successful ballot campaigns submit.

A similar case against three other ballot measures – the tax-cutting amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 – is still dragging on…

Now, according to the proponents, they’re going to comply here any day now–sort of what the “Dr. Evil” intitiative crew has been saying for months. In the meantime, they can count the meager fines as a perfectly manageable cost of doing business. According to Hanel, these principal agents for Proposition 102 are all linked to similar efforts in other states, in turn linked to Bail USA–the bail bond industry giant. And just by coincidence, the bail bond industry stands pretty much exclusively to benefit from Proposition 102!

It’s not about restrictions–this is about basic accountability to the law, folks. A situation where it is advantageous to violate the law rather than comply is going to be exploited. What we’re talking about is the already-required disclosure of who is foisting these measures on Colorado voters, which is essential in understanding why they are on the ballot. Something has got to be done, legislatively, with teeth, or we’re looking at a future of perpetual unaccountable freakshow.


18 thoughts on “Reminder: Flouting Colorado Election Law is Easy and Fun

  1. delayed and manipulated the judicial system enough that these three are printed on the ballot.

    republicans love to say “common sense” well Common sense tells me Doug Bruce is not just behind these measures he is criminally responsible. His Contempt of court should not go unpunished.

    One can only hope these three amendments are soundly defeated.

  2. I wish someone would fix this!  Can the Legislature make the changes to our election laws so this sort of crap won’t happen anymore?  

    For example – you don’t file your campaign finance reports in time or you don’t form a campaign committee, your measure doesn’t get on the ballot.  Plain and simple.  

    1. The legislature CAN.

      The question is, WILL they?

      Who is the prime beneficiary of the way the laws are written?  And would they rather get kicked off the ballot, or pay a fine that will be funded by special-interest contributors?

      The election laws in this State have no teeth.  And legislators are the reason why.

      1. HB 10-1370 was sponsored by Rep. Lois Court and myself.  It addresses this problem, but unfortunately doesn’t take effect until 2011.  The reason for the delayed effective date was that most of these initiative petitions were already in the pipeline and we couldn’t change the rules of the game mid-stream.

        HB 1370 requires the Secretary of State to instruct initiative proponents that they must form an issue committee at the time their petition format is approved for printing.  The committee must be in place when the proponents print or accept 200 or more petition sections.  

        A penalty for noncompliance is more problematic, and isn’t specified by HB 1370.  By the time a petition is filed, over 100,000 voters have exercised their First Amendment rights by affixing their signature to the petition.  If a technical noncompliance by the proponents such as failing to file financial disclosures or missing a deadline prevented the petition from being accepted, the negligence or malfeasance of a few would thwart the First Amendment rights of thousands.  For this reason I believe fines or penalties directed at those responsible is the proper remedy, rather than disallowing the entire petition.

        It’s frustrating to see transparency requirements being ignored by petition proponents, and even more maddening to think that those with deep pockets can simply build fines for noncompliance into the budget for their initiative campaign.  The best remedy for this situation is sunshine and public scrutiny, but of course that only really matters if the electorate or the media took an interest in knowing who was buying pieces of the Colorado Constitution or Colorado Revised Statutes.  Sadly, too few seem to care.

        1. that is, in disallowing the petition when or after it’s submitted with signatures, but how about more transparency and responsibility at the front end?

          How about requiring the sponsors and authors be identified on the petition? At least, that way people could readily make a judgement (informed or not) whether or not to support them (sponsors and authors), in addition to supporting the policy of the proposed ammendment or statute itself, before signing.

          Also, although I see the first ammendment aspect, I don’t agree it’s a problem. (a no shit Dick Tracy disclaimer here: I’m no lawyer, nor a legislator.) If they’ve exercised their right by affixing their name, they don’t subsequently lose it because the government doesn’t pay any attention to it. The SoS, by refusing the petition for noncompliance by the sponsors, is making no judgement on the proposal in the petition nor the intent of the signers; theyre moot in the decision to reject. If I burn a flag and the police say ho-hum and walk on, I’ve still exercised my first ammendment right. I just failed to make an effective point; it went nowhere. Sort of like voting for a loser; there’s no free speech remedy for that.

          Also, the speech contract would seem to be between the signer and the sponsor, not the signer and the government.

          That said, the best solution is in transparency up front, rather than penalty, after the fact. More attention by our media would be helpful, but there most issues devolve to the horserace level.

        2. They are no deterrent.  Anybody with enough money to run a decent campaign or spearhead a major initiative isn’t going to be put off by piddly fines (if any).

          A law with no specific penalty for noncompliance is a law without teeth in my opinion.

        3. But I have to disagree with you on the expression of First Amendment rights by petition signers.

          It is the job of the petition originator to herd their pet initiative through the process.  If they cannot follow the process, then the initiative fails to meet the legal requirements and should not be printed on the ballot.

          I think GalapagoLarry has it exactly right below: if everything’s not substantially in order by ballot printing time, it shouldn’t go on the ballot.

          (We have too many idiotic proposals hitting our ballots anyway, IMHO – a little more care and caution won’t hurt them.)

  3. The legislature (i.e. our [hint] individual legislator and his/her colleagues) can change the laws; the governor (our [hint] governor) can sign off on the law. It may take citizen (our citizen, I mean, our [hint]) pressure, because Colorado has a large contingent of reactionary folks that oppose any form of transparency or accountability, especially when it comes to for-profit agents. They’ll have to be overridden.

    The law should stipulate:

    1. Proponents should in writing and for public record identify themselves immediately when they drop of the petition and its signatures at the SoS office, including major financial underwriters of the effort and significant authors.

    2. Signatures should be gathered at least 21 days before the printing of ballots.

    3. All disclosure (including ammended statements) in sworn affidavits should be entered in the record at least 7 days before the printing of ballots.

    4. If those requirements are not met, the SoS should not be allowed to approve the measure for printing on the ballot.

    5. Consequenses for circumventing these requirements should be among the stiffest of all Colorado election law violation penalties.

    So (no more hints) write and call your state senator and your state representative and alert them of the need for this legislation and of your support for it. Keep writing and calling throughout the coming session. Then, if they pass something, be prepared to pressure the governor.

    Seems to me, if we want it done: It’s our election. It’s our government. It’s our right. It’s our responsibility. No?

  4. bailing out the bail bondsmen.

    The whole point of 102 is to force (poor people mostly) arrested people to use bail instead of allowing the judge to approve another method of guaranteeing their court appearance.

    At least the 101 proponents are delusional idiots.

    The 102 proponents are cynical buzzards.

  5. They can rack up if they aren’t paid…see the example of the proponents on 60, 61 and 101 from here:

    [Buescher] noted that back in June, Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer fined the proponents of the three measures for failing to disclose who funded their petition drive and ordered them to file the required disclosures with Buescher’s office. While the defendants filed an appeal of Spencer’s ruling, Buescher said they never sought a stay of his order. As a result, the fines now exceed $17,000 according to an Aug. 12 invoice from the Secretary of State’s office.

    “I’ve had it argued to me that when proponents fail to do disclosures, their initiatives should not be on the ballot. That may have constitutional problems,” he said. “I’m not satisfied with the tools the Legislature has given this office to enforce repeated and willful campaign violations.”

    1. Initiated Ordinance 300 deserves careful, careful consideration. Serious stuff. Don’t know how to link to the Blue Book, so here’s the entire thing:

      Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an Initiated Ordinance to require the creation of an extraterrestrial affairs commission to help ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver residents and visitors in relation to potential encounters or interactions with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles, and fund such a commission from grants, gifts and donations?

      It’s the funding bit I’m worried about. And possible retaliation from Boulder.

      1. when the extraterrestials come to visit, we can give them Doug Bruce?

        I am really interested in to how the commission is going to teach Denver residents to prepare for an encounter with extraterrestial intelligent beings – seeing how many of them will be on their “medical” drug of choice.  

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