Yes on Amendment 41? Abramoff Made Me Do It

COMMENTARY
If some opponents of Amendment 41 are to be believed, 93,888 Colorado voters entered their polling places on Nov. 7, 2006, to the strains of “Dueling Banjos.”

Rather than being castigated as ignorant about the ballot measure — and the doomsday scenarios that would surely force state public servants to turn down a Nobel Prize as they would a cash-stuffed envelope from a bad-seed lobbyist — perhaps angry voters had other motives for checking that “yes” box.Here we go again.

Now that the Colorado Supreme Court has punted on Amendment 41, the cries against the gift ban law are sharper than ever.

Think back to the spring of 2006 — from the time the ethics in government state constitutional amendment was first introduced through the next six months leading up to Election Day.

What were the top national political stories that lead the above-the-fold headlines, inspired countless special reports on broadcast news and spawned tons of sputtering on talk radio?

Here’s a quick recap.

In March, Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to five years and 10 months for defrauding his American Indian tribal clients and corrupting public officials. He reported to the federal pokey in November. More charges and further sentencing are pending.

A dozen others — including GOP Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, two Bush Administration officials, nine lobbyists and congressional aides (including former Coloradan Italia Federici and pal of Interior Secretary/ex-state attorney general Gale Norton) — were later convicted of myriad crimes related to the Abramoff scandal.

But, wait. There’s more.

In May 2006, FBI agents searched the homes and Capitol Hill congressional office of New Orleans Democrat William Jefferson, who was found to have $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer —  bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “cold hard cash.” Two of Jefferson’s associates have been convicted in the bribery sting. The congressman was indicted on 16 counts of bribery, racketeering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and money laundering, among other federal crimes. He refused to bow to political pressure to resign and remains Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District representative while awaiting trial.

And we haven’t even discussed the ongoing corruption accusations lodged against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas for illegally funneling corporate funds to GOP campaign coffers or the eight-year prison term served to California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham for tax evasion and conspiracy charges after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. All of which culminated in 2006 with DeLay’s resignation and Cunningham donning an orange jumpsuit.

And people wonder why the voters were angry and looking for a way — any way — to throw the bums out?

Granted, Colorado isn’t quite the hotbed of political corruption — save for a couple dumb stunts like local 527 political committees playing fast and loose with campaign finance rules or ex-GOP lawmaker Bill Berens accepting $20,000 from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

But in the eyes of voters, corruption is corruption whether it’s in the Oval Office or the neighborhood dogcatcher’s office.

And nobody has the temerity to take on the special interests nor the pockets deep enough to launch a nationwide series of ballot measures to ratify a federal gift ban to thwart lawmakers and government workers from breaching the public trust by scooping up goodies from K Street lobbyists and assorted ne’er-do-wells.

Fair or not, our generally temperate local public servants are likely paying for the sins of their federal counterparts.

Then again, state lawmakers could have avoided this whole mess by introducing their own watchdog legislation rather than having a well-intended but not-so-well-executed amendment clutter up the Colorado Constitution.

However, when taken in the context of the news headlines, it’s not at all surprising that 63 percent of Coloradans voted for Amendment 41. If there was a citizen-backed initiative to stone the Jack Abramoffs of the world, they probably would have approved that, too.

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