Three sponsors of a trio of controversial measures that will be on the November ballot have violated the state’s campaign finance regulations and must each pay a $2,000 fine, an administrative law judge has ruled.
The ruling, handed down this week by Denver Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer, gives the backers 20 days to disclose who paid for the well-organized campaign to put Amendment 60, Amendment 61 and Proposition 101 on the ballot.
The judge also found that one of the key supporters was Colorado Springs anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce, who communicated with the three individuals from an e-mail address at email@example.com.
“Their testimony that they were unaware of and did not care who their benefactor was, is not believable and demonstrates intent to hide the identity of that benefactor from public disclosure,” Spencer wrote.
Bruce did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The individuals assessed the fines are Louis Schroeder, a Greenwood Village resident and one of two proponents of Amendment 60, which is aimed at lowering or eliminating property taxes; Russell Haas, a Golden resident and one of two proponents of Amendment 61, which seeks to restrict borrowing by state and local governments; and Jeff Gross, a housepainter from Kersey and one of two proponents of Proposition 101, which seeks to reduce the state income tax, reduce taxes and fees on motor vehicles, and end taxes and charges on telecommunications.
Spencer said he had decided to levy the fines against Schroeder, Haas and Gross because of their “reckless disregard of their registration and reporting obligations.” He decided not to levy fines against each of their co-proponents because they were “far less active” in the process.
Mark Grueskin, a Denver attorney who led the legal effort to find out who financed the campaign, said he was pleased by the ruling. “The process shows you cannot hide money in Colorado politics no matter how hard you try,” he said in an interview Friday.
Grueskin said Colorado voters will be better able to decide how they want to vote on the ballot issues once they have learned who financed them. “The people have the right to know who’s behind them,” he said.
More than 400,000 signatures were collected for the three initiatives in the summer and fall of 2009. Many were secured with the help of out-of-state professional circulators who were paid a “bounty” of $1.50 for each pair of signatures, according to court records.
Thousands of signatures were gathered by people temporarily living in a house in Colorado Springs owned by Bruce, Secretary of State records show.
Despite the judge’s ruling, the three ballot issues will still be on the November ballot. If approved, opponents say the consequences could be economically devastating and send the state into a second recession.
During the hearing, the sponsors of the ballot measures said they didn’t know who developed the websites supporting the measures, who printed the petitions, who circulated the petitions, who brought the petitions to Schroeder’s office, and who provided legal advice after the campaign finance complaints were filed.
“Respondents Gross, Haas, and Schroeder received numerous communications regarding their ballot initiatives from an e-mail address identified as firstname.lastname@example.org,” Spencer wrote.
“The emails from email@example.com did not contain the name of the sender, and respondents Gross, Haas, and Schroeder all denied knowing the identity of the individual using that address.”
Spencer found their testimony “evasive and unbelievable.” He added, “It is apparent that Respondents Gross, Haas, and Schroeder, together with Mr. Bruce, were working in concert to support all three initiatives.”
The judge ruled that the proponents constituted “issue committees” and had an “obligation to register and file reports of the contributions received in support of their initiatives.”