Targeting Mr X: Court-Carroll ballot initiative transparency bill advances

DENVER– Democratic state lawmakers Rep. Lois Court and Sen. Morgan Carroll have taken another step in their move to head off would-be anonymous Colorado ballot-initiative authors and financiers. A bill they introduced this legislative session comes in response to the farce Colorado Springs anti-tax crusader Doug Bruce made of the initiative process last year, when as “Mr X” he sent detailed emails of instruction to the initiative proponents, failed to report he was housing petition-signature gatherers and dodged subpoena servers for more than three months.

The Court-Carroll bill,
HB 1035 (pdf), would require that the descriptions of proposed amendments and referendums that appear on ballots for voters to consider include the names of initiative authors and backers.

“Colorado voters deserve to know all of the information about the measures they’re being asked to consider,” Carroll said in a release. “Knowing who is behind a ballot proposal and where the language came from is crucial when considering changes to state law. Having this important information will help voters make better-informed decisions.”

The bill passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee Tuesday and is headed to the Senate for debate.

Rep. Court is a longtime critic of Colorado’s famously loose ballot-initiative process and has been working for years to tighten it up. Basically, citizens write laws and work to get Colorado residents to sign petitions in support of their proposals. It takes roughly 80,000 signatures to land a proposed law on the ballot for a vote.

Court sponsored legislation centered on preventing fraud in the signature-gathering process two years ago.

Critics like Court see the process as inefficient and ripe for abuse. HB 1035 looks to head off not just controversial figures like Bruce but also representatives of activist organizations and corporations, for example, who would seek to hide from voters. Coloradans might look differently on an anti-warning-label law, for instance, if they knew tobacco companies had authored and financed it.

For similar reasons, state campaign-finance laws require initiative supporters to identify themselves by reporting expenditures.

In the course of a campaign finance hearing last year, Bruce, a small-government activist, author of the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights and an erratic former member of the state General Assembly, was identified as a “guiding force” in landing Proposition 101, Amendment 60 and Amendment 61 on the 2010 ballot. Proponents testified that they received emails with ballot language and instructions from a “Mr X,” which it came out was Bruce. From April through September he mocked court requests to appear and be deposed in the matter. “I was on vacation,” he said. “I don’t have to clear with anybody in the government whether I want to go on vacation.”

He has never said why he didn’t want to be associated publicly with the initiatives, which voters roundly voted against in November.

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