Public employees file second suit against Amendment 54

First rule of political life: Don’t tick off the teachers and firefighters.

A second lawsuit against a newly enacted “clean government” measure alleging seven constitutional and Colorado law violations has been filed by public employees and trade organizations representing Colorado educators and first responders.

Amendment 54, which went into effect Dec. 31, prohibits both unions and sole-source government contractors and their families from giving to political campaigns.

A complaint filed Wednesday in Denver District Court asserts the same First and 14th Amendment infringements as noted in a separate legal challenge filed by a plaintiff class of Children’s Hospital, the University of Denver and three prominent individuals who serve on charitable boards.

The teachers and firefighters further argue that the amendment has significant consequences, though backers largely intended to use it as a vehicle to squelch labor contributions to political campaigns that benefit Democrats.

As members of collective bargaining units within governmental bodies, public employees and their families would be barred from making political contributions — in effect prohibiting guaranteed free speech and equal protection rights, the suit contends.

The everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach also questions the amendment’s single-issue requirement and a host of technical concerns about definitions and state interpretations for applying the law to some groups but not others.

It’s deja vu all over again of the 18-month legal battle to enact the contentious Amendment 31 gift ban.

The plaintiffs include:

• Kerrie Dallman, a social studies teacher from Pomona High School currently serving a three-year term as president of the Jefferson County Education Association. In her capacity as president, she is prohibited from making political contributions under Amendment 54.

• Laurence Botnick, an assistant professor of social work at Metro State College. He is a taxpayer, concerned that the state’s enforcement of Amendment 54 will violate the Colorado and U.S. Constitutions.

• School District 14 Classroom Teachers Association Political Action Committee, a registered political committee that made contributions to local board of education candidates in 2005 but is prevented by Amendment 54 from making contributions in the 2009 election.

• School District 14 Classroom Teachers Association, a labor organization that made ballot issue contributions in 2006 but is prevented by Amendment 54 from doing so at any time in the future.

• Aurora Fire Fighters Protective Association, a labor organization that, because of Amendment 54, is foregoing its plans to form a political committee to make contributions in municipal races.

• Douglas County Federation, a labor organization that represents teachers and classified employees in the Douglas County School District and is being required to immediately agree to put Amendment 54’s provisions in its collective bargaining agreement, even though that will mean it can no longer make contributions in local ballot issue campaigns.

As we noted throughout the election season, Amendment 54 was touted as a “clean government” measure by its backers. But its aims were far less transparent. While voters narrowly passed Amendment 54 in November by a 51-49 margin under the guise of making public officials more accountable, the measure’s political committee refused to disclose its own funding sources.