Wisdom from Bill Murray: Don’t bet on Colorado elections

COLORADO SPRINGS — An election over whether to raise the local sales tax here to fix potholes is over — it passed — but there was one question still lingering today about the vote. Would Councilman Bill Murray try to collect on a $100 bet he made with anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce about how the tax measure would fare?

Murray won’t. Because doing so could be illegal.

From Colorado Revised Statute 3-4-503:

It is unlawful for any person, including any candidate for public office, before or during any municipal election, to make any bet or wager with a qualified elector or take a share or interest in, or in any manner become a party to, any such bet or wager or provide or agree to provide any money to be used by another in making such bet or wager upon any event or contingency whatever arising out of such election. For each such offense, the offender commits a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in section 31-10-1504.

Colorado Springs, however, is a home rule municipality, and this was a local election, so potential enforcement wouldn’t come from provisions in the section cited at the end of the law above, said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, when contacted by The Colorado Independent. Instead, he says, prosecutors would look into any potential violation as a local matter.

“The wise course would be for everyone to treat this as a joke and not collect on the bet,” Toro said. “Otherwise, we expect the authorities to investigate and prosecute this like they would any other election crime.”

Treating it like a joke is the course Murray says he’s taking.

One of council’s newest members— he said people stole his yard signs because of his name— Murray says at least one attorney warned him in writing that regardless of the election outcome he should not take any money from Bruce. Doing so, he said he was told, would be a misdemeanor.

Murray said others have inquired about whether he’d collect on the bet, including Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, the state’s former Republican attorney general who in that capacity was in charge of enforcing state gambling laws.

“I said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that at the time,’” Murray told The Independent about the legal issues involved in betting on elections when he initially made his $100 wager with Bruce over the summer. He adds that taking the bet was never about the Benjamins anyway.

“It was about [Bruce] badgering us and stating that our heart wasn’t really in the project,” Murray says.

When members of the city council were weighing whether to put the tax issue to voters, Bruce, the colorful anti-tax folk hero and landlord, showed up and publicly bet council members $100 each that the tax hike would fail, asking them to “put your money where your mouth is.” Only Murray took him on.

Last night that tax measure passed by a large margin, and according to election-night coverage in The Colorado Springs Gazette, Murray had been indicating he’d pay up if the tax measure failed.

“I feel very, very positive about it, but I’ll be there with $100,” Murray told the paper. Asked at the time if Bruce would similarly pony up if he lost, Bruce told a reporter, “I don’t ever want to talk to you again.”

So, here’s some news you can use, courtesy of Bill Murray, Douglas Bruce, and a local tax vote in the Springs: Don’t bet on local elections in Colorado.

Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström, Creative Commons, Flickr.