State Senator Morgan Carroll and Representative Lois Court’s ballot-initiative transparency bill, HB 1035, passed Monday unanimously out of the Senate and with a wide majority in the House. The deep support for the bill is notably rare when it comes to legislation that seeks to tweak Colorado’s ballot initiative process, an intentionally loose process loved by citizens and special interests alike.
The shenanigans undertaken by former Colorado Springs lawmaker Doug Bruce last year likely gave the bill added momentum. It would have been difficult for even sympathetic lawmakers to argue either in favor of Bruce’s actions or that his actions didn’t expose the system as open to abuse.
Bruce wrote perhaps the most influential ballot initiative in Colorado politics, the nearly two-decades old Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which requires lawmakers to submit tax hikes to the voters for approval at the ballot box. TABOR is loved and hated. It’s the same with Bruce. Last year he appears to have authored and financially backed three controversial tax-slashing ballot initiatives– Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61– that would have pared Colorado’s already thin revenue stream to a creek or a trickle, depending on whom you ask.
Bruce lurked anonymously behind the scenes, perhaps fearing his reputation as a hot-head public personality and anti-government crusader would hobble efforts to pass the initiatives. He allegedly sent emails to the proponents of the measures signed only as “Mr X” with writing and strategy instructions. He also housed professional signature gatherers in Colorado Springs-area apartments he owns and never reported the in-kind or any financial support he was providing to them, a clear violation of state campaign finance laws.
Yet he seemed beyond the reach of the law, which he flouted repeatedly for months, dodging repeated efforts on the part of state officials to serve him a subpoena. The state was seeking to depose Bruce at a campaign finance hearing on the three initiatives.
Carroll and Court’s House Bill 1035 requires initiative language on ballots to include information about who authored proposed amendments, propositions and referendums. Voters may think differently about proposals once they know who is behind them– that is, whether the author is Doug Bruce, the Independence Institute, Focus on the Family, ProgressNow, the National Rifle Association or any other special interest.
In addition to the ballot-initiative bill, Carroll is pushing for greater government transparency with a number of other bills, including a taxpayer empowerment act, which would require all government contracts be posted online for the public to view, and a bill that would establish a government-services auditing website, which would likewise open up government finances to greater public scrutiny.
Rep. Court has been a longtime ballot-initiative-process watcher and has successfully spearheaded efforts in recent sessions to pass bills tightening up the laws governing the process.[Image: Morgan Carroll ]