Spin Cycles

Laundered money, the shadow of big tobacco, and a blubbering court reporter: The wild trial over Colorado's Amendment 15.

Alexander, though, says he's still mad at Hill for asking about his links to tobacco during the Denver trial. "I despise him for bringing in that information," Alexander says.

Two-time Arvada congressional candidate Pat Miller began the trial as a plaintiff. She's since been removed from most of the claims in the suit--in large part because Judge Sparr couldn't believe what she said.

Under questioning from Weishaupl about apparent inconsistencies with her own fundraising, the staunch anti-abortion crusader responded, "I've been called a lot of things, but I've never been accused of being a liar."

While Sparr didn't call her a liar, he did say he "found no credible evidence in the testimony" that she gave.

The issue was whether or not Miller's PAC, the anti-abortion Citizens for Responsible Government, stands to be harmed by the spending limits imposed by Amendment 15.

Miller, who has lost two bids to unseat Democratic congressman David Skaggs, wanted to show that CRG would lose its First Amendment right to expression if it couldn't make donations of more than $1,000. She said the group had done so in the past, and wanted to do so in the future, but couldn't because of Amendment 15.

However, the defense showed that CRG hadn't reported making any donations of more than $1,000 during the previous six years--in fact, it hadn't reported making any donations of more than $500 and so would not be burdened by being forced to live within the new limits. The defense based its argument on records from the secretary of state, which showed that CRG had been operating well within the new limits long before they went into effect.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs introduced into evidence receipts and other records to show that CRG had made donations in excess of $1,000 as recently as 1996. The problem is that those donations weren't reported, meaning that, if Miller's testimony was truthful, her PAC must have been in violation of the old disclosure requirements.

Sparr chose to believe that CRG had been accurate in its previous reports to the secretary of state, which meant he didn't accept Miller's testimony. To believe her testimony, he said, "would require the court to ignore the credibility of the documents filed with the secretary of state. The court is not inclined to make that credibility leap."

Lawyer Bopp tried to come to Miller's aid by arguing that even if CRG hadn't exceeded Amendment 15's limits in the past, its desire to exceed those limits in the future was legally sufficient to challenge the law on First Amendment grounds. By way of example, he said a person who wants to burn an American flag deserves as much protection under the Constitution as someone who actually burns one.

Sparr disagreed, ruling that judges must review actual cases, not hypothetical ones. The courts, he added, are not a "debating society."

One way lawyers for the Republicans are attempting to prove that Amendment 15 has hampered free speech is by showing that donations to the party are down 44 percent compared with two years ago--according to them, a pernicious result of the measure's spending limits.

Defense lawyers dispute the accuracy of those numbers but say that even if they are correct, there may be another cause for the decline in contributions: Steve Curtis, the GOP's cantankerous new state chairman.

Curtis has been the focus of a number of unflattering news stories in recent months about his arguments with party members over the issue of abortion. In one of those stories, Bruce Holland, the head of the Denver County GOP, was quoted as saying he thought Curtis was recruiting pro-life candidates to run against pro-choice Republican incumbents. But from the stand, Curtis accused Holland of lying. "That's another blatant lie by Mr. Holland, who is trying to discredit me," Curtis said on the stand.

Holland sounds almost amused when told that Curtis called him a liar under oath. "I don't think Amendment 15 is a good idea philosophically, so I shouldn't say this because I know it helps the other side," he says. "But that lawyer is right [about the reasons for the drop in donations]."

With Curtis as state GOP chair, Holland says, "you can hear checkbooks slamming shut all over the state."

When Democratic state representative Ken Gordon of Denver approached the stand to testify during the defense portion of the case, he got lost amidst a knot of lawyers and boxes of court documents. Sparr joked, "You ought to know your way to the witness stand," and then noted for the record that he knew Gordon from the days when he was a state district judge and Gordon was a practicing lawyer.

Even without the judge's disclosure, Gordon's testimony went a long way toward betraying his background as an attorney. Despite his belief in campaign-finance reform, Gordon's lawyerly performance on the stand made it clear Sparr has his work cut out for him in trying to pin people down on just what constitutes political corruption.

Gordon refuses to take PAC money, and the defense called him to show that's it's possible to be a successful politician without PAC support. Still, Gordon testified that he's influenced even by the small donations he gets from individuals. "There is no pure way to raise money," Gordon told the court. He added that he pictured political contributions as a sort of a continuum, with bribery at one end, and the act of simply voting for a constituent's best interests at the other.

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