Colorado Springs Gazette writer Eileen Welsome reported yesterday that non-resident professional petition circulators worked in Colorado last year to land three tax-slashing initiatives on the November ballot. Welsome tracked the circulators to controversial anti-government figure Doug Bruce. She wrote that they stayed in a house owned by Bruce and that they had worked for similar initiatives in Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska. As Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro told the Colorado Independent, the revelations “bode pretty well” for the plaintiff fighting the initiatives who have brought a lawsuit alleging the proponents violated state disclosure laws by failing to report donors.
What are the implications of these revelations on the future of the initiatives?
The initiatives are very likely still guaranteed a spot on the ballot.
“The signatures gathered still stand. That’s not really the issue,” said Toro. “Let me put it this way: It seems clear that this has not been a volunteer grassroots effort. So the issue is, if you’re spending money then, you know, you have to register as an issue committee and disclose your donors.”
Toro said the facts in the case were still unclear and no doubt much was yet to be revealed.
“The $64,000 question is: Why? Why not declare as an issue committee?”
There are relevant political reasons and ideological considerations.
There is the negative connotation that comes in many quarters with the name Doug Bruce, whose involvement with the initiatives stirs visions of his extreme anti-government stands and of the off-the-hook behavior that marked his time in the state legislature.
There is also the matter of free expression. Many believe disclosure requirements work to chill free speech, that a record of individual political expression might bring retribution. The ballot initiative, in particular, is often seen as the place to bring issues too hot for the usual lawmaking channels and that, with the initiative, none of the usual avenues of corruption exist– a pay off to a lawmaker for example– to justify the risk of limiting speech.
But fans of disclosure say another kind of free expression is supported by disclosure laws, that the right to relevant information is fundamental to informed expression. Disclosure helps voters more fully understand the issues and the stakes they’re being asked to consider.
Mark Grueskin, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, Protect Colorado’s Communities, told the Colorado Independent only that the case is still developing. It’s scheduled to be heard at the end of March.