After a costly effort to unmask the creators of an anonymous website backing three controversial tax-relief issues, an administrative law judge has fined three of the listed proponents of the measures for violating state campaign finance laws -- and concluded that tax crusader Douglas Bruce was deeply involved in behind-the-scenes efforts to prepare and promote the issues.
The three measures, Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, are under heavy attack by a wide range of lobbying groups, unions and business associations, which have raised close to a million dollars to defeat them. Amendment 60 would limit property taxes and shift some school district funding to other sources of state aid; Amendment 61 proposes a strict cap on borrowing by state and local government; and 101 would require reductions or phase-outs of taxes and fees on motor vehicles, phone service and state income tax.
Opponents of the measures claim that the proponents should have registered as "issue committees" and filed reports on contributions to the Secretary of State. During the hearing, proponents claimed that they didn't know who paid for the printing of their petitions or in some cases who drafted the initiatives. Neither did they know who operated and maintained the website pushing all three measures.
Critics say the tax-reduction measures are entirely consistent with other proposals Bruce (the father of the TABOR amendment) has sponsored in the past. But he's strenuously denied being the secret mastermind of 60, 61 and 101.
"I am not one of the proponents," he told Westword just a few days ago. "I am a private citizen. They're just trying to tar me with the petitions and tar the petitions with me."
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Bruce didn't testify at the hearing. Opponents of the measures claim he dodged subpoena service for weeks. Bruce says he was served for a deposition, but the subpoena was withdrawn in writing.
"This claim that I was subpoenaed 29 times -- it's just not true," he says. "I was on vacation. I have a right to leave the state."
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Other testimony indicated that the named proponents had been advised by Bruce, receiving e-mails from him sent from an address at the mystery website. Bruce apparently told the group they were "simply names to start the process" and didn't have to file as issue committees.
Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer disagreed. In a decision dated June 9, he fined three of the listed proponents $2,000 each for failing to report the contributions represented by the printing of the petitions and the website itself.
The decision does not affect voters' ability to consider the three measures, which are still slated to appear on the November ballot.
Stay tuned: The legal and political battles over the petition process in Colorado, and who benefits from the wrangling, will be examined in an upcoming Westword feature.