After the uproar over three tax-cutting initiatives on last year's ballot, at least two bills introduced in the 2011 legislative session are designed to head off similarly furtive petition strategies in the future -- and keep anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce from repeating the performance that frustrated a cadre of judges, lawyers and process servers last summer.
As reported in my July 8 feature "Rabble With a Cause" and subsequent blog updates, Bruce's shadowy role in getting amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 on the 2010 ballot came under fire early and often. But an administrative law proceeding brought by opponents of the measures who wanted full disclosure of the campaign's principal backers and finances lacked teeth, and Bruce managed to stave off subpoenas and depositions until very late in the election season.
Ultimately, the three measures went down in flames -- opponents outspent the 60-61-101 folks by a factor of about 700-to-one -- and backers, including a "charity" started by Bruce, were fined several thousand dollars for violating campaign finance laws.
The whole fiasco seems to have left a lingering bad taste among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. One bill, HB-1117, sponsored by Democrats Beth McCann and Lois Court, adds muscle to the administrative process by making it easier to transfer a subpoena to district court, which presumably will have more success compelling a subpoenaed party to show up for hearings. The bill seems to be entirely tailored to a Certain Someone who maintained that he was out of state when process servers attempted dozens of times to locate him.
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Another, more far-ranging bill is attracting a fair amount of chatter in the political blogosphere in part because it's being pressed by Frank McNulty, the new (and thoroughly Republican) House Speaker. HB-1072 requires more detailed and immediate disclosure from petition groups, including the central question of who paid to circulate the petitions.
McNulty insists that the bill doesn't interfere with anybody's right to petition their state government -- it just insures that voters get to know early in the process who's paying for the measure. That level of transparency has been lacking in some of the recent petition battles. Although an argument could be made that too much disclosure discourages people from getting involved in the petition process out of fears of reprisal, such a prospect is apparently of less concern to the folks under the dome than the possibility of a Bruce encore.