Doug Bruce remains for now one step ahead of the law. The controversial father of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights is apparently running from the law by staying at home and refusing to answer the door. In a high profile campaign finance trial taking place in Denver, Bruce has been fingered as the not-so-secret “Mr X” who authored three tax-slashing ballot initiatives, tampered with witnesses and illegally paid petition gatherers to secure signatures. The court has reportedly attempted to serve Bruce with subpoenas 29 times over the past weeks, only to see the court notes disappear without effect from the screen door of Bruce’s Colorado Springs home along with the newspapers from his stoop. He says he’s the target of a witch hunt, that he’s been on vacation, that he doesn’t know what anybody’s talking about.
Now Bruce may be sought in contempt of court proceedings and pursued by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, a longtime acquaintance. “It wouldn’t be a thing where we’d call out SWAT or anything,” Maketa told the Denver Post Friday, “but he’s got to leave the house eventually.”
The Post’s Tim Hoover rounded up the rich details:
Process servers and El Paso County sheriff’s deputies have visited Bruce’s home early in the day and late in the evening, leaving notices and cards at the door, which were removed when they returned to try again. They’ve called Bruce but haven’t heard back.
A visit to Bruce’s house Thursday yielded nothing when a Denver Post reporter rang the doorbell and left a card.
But Bruce did answer the telephone at his house later in the day.
“I don’t want to talk to you. How many more times do I have to tell you?” he said before hanging up.
On Friday, Bruce responded to an e-mail and said he had been out of town.
“This is all a publicity stunt by petition opponents to tie my name to the three petitions filed by Denver-area proponents,” he wrote.
In correspondence with Colorado Attorney General John Suthers’ office before the court order being issued, Bruce makes clear he thinks he’s the victim of a political witch hunt.
“The state has great hostility to these petitions and is taking illegal actions to show it,” Bruce wrote in an e-mail May 3. “This innocent bystander is being caught up in this official screw job of those whose only violation was petitioning the government for fiscal restraints.”
Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer requested Suthers’ office seek the court order compelling Bruce to testify.
Suthers, a Republican, said he believes Bruce is aware of the court order.
“I think the process servers’ observations speak for themselves,” he said.
Court-filed notes chronicle the visits and show servers at times saw lights on in Bruce’s house and noticed newspapers had been removed from the front of the house.
The famously loose ballot initiative process in the state has been celebrated as encouraging democratic involvement but also criticized as ripe for abuse. It has been the subject of recent legislative reforms mostly aimed at guarding against widespread signature fraud. Bruce may well have simply calculated the possible penalties he would face in breaking laws and decided the risk was worth it– that is, that his tax-slashing ends justified his law-breaking means.
Mark Grueskin, the high-powered attorney representing Coloradans for Responsible Reform, the group that brought the campaign-finance complaint, told the Denver Post that compelling Bruce to testify sets a much-needed precedent. Unless Bruce is on some level held accountable, he said, “every political wiseguy that wants to avoid responsibilities under the law will do exactly what we’ve seen here.”
The three initiatives– Prop 101 and Amendments 60 and 61– would gut state revenues by, for example, eliminating or severely reducing car and phone taxes and preventing state borrowing for construction projects. The vast majority of state lawmakers, Republicans as well as Democrats, have denounced the anti-government initiatives as unrealistic and dangerous.
Watching the courtroom drama unfold, Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro told the Colorado Independent that Bruce’s actions are somewhat baffling.
“Fortunately for Mr. Bruce, there is an easy way for him to clear the air,” Toro wrote in an email. “All he has to do is accept the deposition subpoena… and truthfully and completely answer under oath all questions about his apparent involvement with these ballot issues. The campaign finance enforcement system is a key part of our ballot initiative process, and it deserves no less respect than any other part of the process. The people deserve to understand exactly how these measures were developed and qualified for the ballot.”