‘Poison’ attached to ban on cash gifts to lawmakers
DENVER – The House approved a ban on cash gifts to lawmakers Monday but attached a measure that would bar the governor from accepting money for speeches – a move that some said was designed to ensure a veto.”This is a poison pill,” said Pete Maysmith of the public interest group Colorado Common Cause. “It (the ban on speech payments) needs to come off and we need to address this issue in separate legislation,” he said.The House approved the measure (Senate Bill 51) on a 49-15 vote and sent it back to the Senate, which passed a different version earlier.Rep. Mark Larson, R-Cortez, said the bill is unfair to rural lawmakers who depend on cash donations to hire aides, pay for mailings to constituents and cover similar expenses that the state does not provide for. Lawmakers who live in the Denver area can do that work out of their homes, he said.Larson said if the bill isn’t killed, he will try to change it to ban all handouts to lawmakers, such as free trips and meals, so all are treated equally.Larson added the amendment barring state officials, including the governor, from accepting payment for speeches.Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, the bill’s House sponsor, said the amendment was clearly aimed at Owens because most lawmakers don’t get paid for speeches.”The intent of this bill is to ban office accounts. We need to address office accounts,” Weissmann said.Gov. Bill Owens, who cannot run again because of term limits, has not decided whether he will veto the bill, spokesman Dan Hopkins.Hopkins said lawmakers have not raised state executives’ salaries in years and it has been an accepted practice for governors, who are paid $90,000 a year, to supplement their incomes by giving speeches.Owens was paid $24,000 from the United Jewish Community of Ukraine for speeches he gave last September in Kiev.Last year, Owens vetoed a measure that would have limited the amount of money state lawmakers can accept from individuals, companies, unions and others for office expenses, saying state law already puts limits on cash donations and bribery is a felony.Voters approved limits on campaign contributions to political candidates in 2002, but the state has no limits on cash gifts to elected officials, although they must be reported every January.Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock – who had received about $17,000 in gifts to run his office last year – argued for imposing no limits on cash gifts but requiring lawmakers to report every 90 days on who gave them money and how it was spent.Sen. Jim Dyer, R-Centennial, said voters could then throw out any lawmaker if it looked like they were being influenced by those gifts.
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