Court clears language of proposed amendment on issue committees
DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court issued a split ruling Monday that helps clear the way for voters to decide this fall whether to enact strict guidelines on donations to ballot campaigns – and even stricter penalties if those rules are broken.Under the proposed constitutional amendment, any individual or entity that gives more than $500 to a campaign backing a plan to raise taxes or public debt could not benefit from that proposal through employment, a government contract or any transfer of public funds from a government entity.Violations could result in overturning the entire ballot measure – something opponents say would be a “major and broad-sweeping undoing of the public will.”Supporters of the plan disagreed.”There should be no financial reward for giving money to a tax-increase campaign,” said Jon Caldara, president of the Golden-based Independence Institute think tank and an initiative supporter. “You can still give $1 million to a tax-increase campaign (under the proposal), you just can’t benefit from it.”The proposal had been challenged on the basis of its language. Opponents said it violated a constitutional requirement that ballot initiatives deal with only one subject, arguing that enforcement was separate from than the contribution restrictions.In a 4-2 ruling, the Supreme Court said the enforcement provision was directly tied to the initiative’s purpose.”Mere implementation or enforcement details directly tied to the initiatives single subject will not, in and of themselves, constitute a separate subject,” the ruling said.Justices Gregory Hobbs and Michael Bender dissented, saying the enforcement provision is a separate subject.”The voiding of an electorate’s prior vote is hardly a logically connected enforcement measure within the context of this initiative,” the dissenting justices said. “It is an entirely separate purpose, not a logically connected enforcement mechanism, to void the outcome of a citizen vote because a contributor to an issue committee successfully competed, by reason of the merits of its bid, against others who bid on a district project.”An attorney for the opponents did not immediately return a call.The Supreme Court did not consider the merits of the proposed amendment.Republican consultant Katy Atkinson, who has been on opposite sides of Caldara in several recent initiative campaigns, said it probably wouldn’t survive such scrutiny.”I cannot see how that can withstand constitutional muster – that you can overturn the will of the people because of somebody who contributed to the campaign, and I can’t imagine that if it is constitutional it would be very palatable to the people,” she said. “Voters don’t like any kind of ballot measure they think takes anything away from them, and saying it could overturn a ballot result could be the fatal flaw.”Caldara said backers will likely begin collecting voter signatures soon, but said the challenge had stalled action on the measure for so long that it could be difficult to gather the nearly 68,000 valid signatures required to win a spot on the November ballot.
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