Douglas Bruce: The long, hard fall of a rogue tax crusader

The conviction of controversy magnet Douglas Bruce on tax evasion charges has touched off some high-pitched gloating on liberal-leaning political websites, as well as the expected musings on the irony of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights godfather getting busted by the tax man. For those who hate TABOR, it's apparently a swell day.

Yet it would be a mistake to draw too close a connection between Bruce's politics and the peculiar fiscal shenanigans that have left him facing a possible prison term. His downfall has less to do with the ideology of his anti-tax crusades (which, in the case of TABOR, managed to strike a nerve well beyond his ultraconservative base) than with his personal contempt and loathing of government and its minions. That contempt has made him an increasingly marginal and divisive figure in Colorado politics in recent years -- and put him on a crash course with the powers that be.

I've had occasion to deal with Bruce on several stories over the years, from his long-running battle with the City of Denver over his dilapidated rental properties to his ill-fated machinations on the part of three tax-slashing ballot initiatives last year. He never struck me as the ogre many journalists made him out to be.

Yes, he was abrupt, rude and abrasive. He was also smart, passionate and fully invested in his low opinion of his enemies. He fought Denver's property cops to a standstill and made a powerful case that he'd been singled out for selective prosecution. He could be eloquent in his defense of the citizen initiative process in Colorado, which lawmakers are perpetually seeking to demolish.

The self-interest involved in many of his crusades was obvious -- and a refreshing departure from the phony altruism of so many political figures who, fueled by campaign donations from bond dealers, contractors and other development interests, never met a grandiose tax hike they couldn't embrace. The tax-centric scope of his interests made him a highly quotable gadfly and a highly limited choice for county commissioner; it would probably have doomed him to a very short stay in the state legislature even if he hadn't been censured for kicking a news photographer , something that Bruce insisted never happened.

By the time of the campaign last year on behalf of Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, Bruce had gone virtually underground, reportedly directing the campaign from the shadows and running afoul of campaign finance laws. He battled efforts to depose him regarding the true backers of the efforts and described himself as the victim of a witch hunt.

His defiance of the rules of political engagement proved to be his undoing. All the subterfuge merely focused more attention on the nonprofit he'd created years earlier to funnel funds to his petition drives -- and ultimately led to a jury finding that he'd helped himself to more than $150,000 in interest earned by the accounts while failing to report the money as personal income.

In addition to an absolute hatred of paying taxes, it takes a certain kind of hubris to blow off the government that way. Hubris was what kept Bruce going against formidable odds, and it could very well get him gone.

Read Alan Prendergast's "The Case of the Kidnapped Coed" here.

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