Douglas Bruce, from LA lawyer to convicted tax evader

JOHN SCHROYER Updated: February 9, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: February 9, 2012

Douglas Bruce.

That name has been emblazoned on the Colorado political world over the past two decades, synonymous with unbending determination, defiance of authority, and a dual ideology  — smaller government and lower taxes.

But for many, the name is also synonymous with annoying, egotistical and arrogant.

Regardless of perspective, Bruce has had what is arguably the biggest impact on Colorado in modern history than any other politician, mostly thanks to a single achievement. The Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which Bruce wrote and voters approved in 1992, has tied the state’s financial hands by requiring tax increases to be approved by voters and by limiting the growth of government. That Constitutional change has resonated throughout the bureaucracies of Colorado, from school districts all the way to the governor’s office.

Bruce milked that victory for 16 years, rising slowly through political and governmental ranks, and has stayed in the limelight for much of that time, including a sudden fall from grace in 2008.

It was one that has proved fatal to his career — after he lost a primary election for his legislative seat that year, he began distancing himself from ballot measures. Three that he backed in 2010 all failed. Then his political organization shut down in the face of campaign finance violations, and it surfaced that he had omitted information on the organziation's tax forms. He lost his last election, in the spring of 2011, when he ran for a seat on the Colorado Springs City Council.

He was convicted of tax evasion and three other white collar crimes late last year.

Bruce was sentenced in February 2012 to six years of probation and back-to-back 90-day terms in Denver County jail. Under the terms of his probation, Bruce must report all of his bank accounts, report all his financial transactions, open all his computer files, and pay for possible therapy.

His jail time began Feb. 17, 2012. Bruce maintained his innocence.

It wasn't Bruce's first time in jail. He spent eight days in a Denver jail for a contempt of court citation, during a 1995 case over a charge of “maintaining an unsafe building.”

And the story is nowhere near over. Bruce has promised to appeal his conviction, and the process will take months.

The public has been captivated by his life and times, and still is. Bruce has stayed in the headlines more than any other politician over the past 20 years. Here’s a look at his career.

From L.A. to County Commissioner

Bruce was born in Los Angeles on Aug. 26, 1949. He earned his law degree there and worked as a deputy district attorney for nearly six years, before leaving in 1979. Bruce got into real estate, and ran on the Democratic ticket for the California State Assembly in 1981, but lost. He also lost to the Internal Revenue Service a few years later, over claims he made for business expenses.

In 1986, he moved to Colorado Springs.

After his move, Bruce dove immediately into Colorado politics, writing the first version of TABOR in 1988 and then campaigning statewide. It failed.

Bruce is nothing if not stubborn. He tried to get TABOR passed again, two years later. It failed again.

But on the third try, in 1992, voters gave it a thumbs up. And now, Bruce’s license plate reads MR TABOR.

Riding high on that success, Bruce tried a different angle. Convinced of the famous adage that the best way to change a system was from the inside, he ran for the state Senate in 1994. He lost.

Six years later, he gave it another go. He failed again.

But for Bruce, the third time is often the charm. He ran for El Paso County commission in 2004. And he won. That began a new chapter in his battle with government, and establishments at large.

In public office

Bruce quickly developed a reputation as a snarky contrarian, often casting a lone dissenting vote against measures that other conservative commissioners supported, and sparring with both the county and the city of Colorado Springs over finer points of law.

Right at the start of his term on the commission, Bruce started a fight with the county over whether his $63,000-a-year salary could be deposited tax-free straight into the bank account of a non-profit he founded in 2001, called Active Citizens Together. He promised during his campaign that he would give all of his county pay to charity, and he tried to do it without paying income tax on it.

After 10 months, however, the county won, and standard paycheck taxes were deducted from his salary. The rest of the cash went to ACT.

From then on, he drove his colleagues bonkers.

The county attorney once called him a sociopath and a narcissist, he had several fights with other commissioners during hearings, and even County Sheriff Terry Maketa had it out with Bruce. Maketa told Bruce in late 2007 that he was glad Bruce had won a seat in the Legislature because it got him into an "environment that will match your ineffectiveness."

Bruce in the House

Bruce had been appointed by a vacancy committee to fill an open seat in the state House of Representatives. He proved immediately so unpopular that nearly the entire Republican House caucus voted with House Democrats to censure him. That was the result of his kicking a news photographer on the first day of the session. He was, and still is, the only member of the Colorado Legislature to ever have been formally censured.

That was after he was denounced by both parties for demanding to be sworn in with the full House of Representatives in attendance. It was also after he exasperated party leaders by delaying his swearing in until after the midpoint of the term, which would have allowed him to extend the future number of terms he could serve, from three to four.

Bruce again infuriated the entire House by refusing to support a resolution honoring the annual Military and Veterans Day. Republican leaders punished him by kicking him off the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

He was gaveled down on the floor of the House at one point for calling Mexican immigrants “illiterate peasants,” and was accused of sexual harassment by a female aide. (He was cleared of any wrongdoing in the latter case.)

Bruce had several successes, though, issues and points he’s still proud of. One that he touts on his Web site is that in 2008, the Colorado Union of Taxpayers gave him a 93 percent approval rating, higher than any other legislator.

And Sen. Kent Lambert, a Colorado Springs Republican who was then serving in the House, wrote a letter on Bruce’s behalf outlining how he had strategically forced Capitol Democrats into upping veterans funding by more than $600,000.

But Bruce angered so many people that he was voted out of office. Now-Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, beat Bruce by a solid 4 percent in the district primary. And many said at the time that Waller won not because of who he was, but because of who he wasn’t — Douglas Bruce.

Other ballot measures

Aside from his pre-2001 campaigns, such as the three TABOR races, Active Citizens Together paid for and ran all of the ballot measures that Bruce was involved in. And some that he wasn’t.

In 2006, ACT backed a pair of ballot measures — issues 200 and 201. The former would have phased out the city’s property tax, lowered the sales tax and require all excess city revenue be refunded to voters. The latter would have made it more difficult for the city to borrow money.

Two years later, the organization backed another pair labeled with the same numbers. They would have only allowed city enterprises to charge for “voluntary contracts only,” and eliminated over time all city enterprise payments to the city. They were aimed, essentially, at the city’s Stormwater Enterprise.

All four of the measures failed. (The latter two were voted down just months after Bruce lost his House seat to Waller.)

In 2009, however, Bruce hit gold — he pushed Initiative 300, which phased out the much-hated Stormwater fee, and it passed by 10 points.

That gave Bruce the gusto to go for three at once in 2010. ACT, which was still being run by Bruce, got three tax-cutting measures on the state ballot — Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101.

Bruce did the best he could to disassociate himself from the trio, ostensibly trying not to poison them with his increasingly toxic reputation. He dodged process servers for months after it came to light that several of the petition gatherers for the measures had lived at rental properties he owned.

It was only after a judge issued a contempt of court order against him that he appeared before a grand jury to give a deposition. He had been pulling the strings for all three ballot measures.

Despite Bruce’s determination, his efforts were in vain. All three measures failed massively.

Other brushes with the law

Though Bruce has been embroiled in countless legal battles with both Colorado Springs and Denver, especially over several of his dilapidated properties, he has been the subject of only a handful of criminal actions. And most have been over the last six years, when his activism was reaching its zenith.

In 1995, Bruce wound up spending eight days in a Denver jail during a property case, when the judge found him in contempt. He was fined $523 in the case.

In 2006, Bruce was cited by police for being too close to a polling place while campaigning against a tax measure that would have benefited the Falcon Fire Protection District.

Three years later, he was charged with misdemeanor trespassing after he refused to leave a local Costco while gathering signatures to get issue 300 on the ballot, which overturned the Stormwater fee. At the end of the year, a jury found him not guilty.

And then, in April 2011, came the beginning of the end. He was arrested by Colorado Springs police and indicted for tax evasion, filing a false tax return, failing to file a tax return and attempting to influence a public official.

Bruce refused to hire an attorney on the case, and represented himself. He filed a dozen motions - to get the case dismissed and to get it moved from Denver to El Paso County. He also accused the Attorney General's office of lying, he complained that he was being framed, and more. Nothing worked.

At the trial, the First Assistant Attorney General laid out what he called a "well-orchestrated scheme" by Bruce to launder money through his now-defunct non-profit, Active Citizens Together, to avoid paying state and federal income taxes. Prosecutor Robert Shapiro also brought evidence to prove Bruce had lied on his 2005 tax return, and that in doing so, attempted to influence the actions of the head of the Department of Revenue.

Bruce denied all the charges. He often infuriated the judge in the case, as well as the prosecution, and spent much of his time arguing technicalities.

He also called several prominent conservatives to testify as character witnesses, including state Sens. Kent Lambert and Kevin Lundberg, as well as former state Senate President John Andrews.

When Bruce lost, headlines up and down the Front Range shouted the verdict: the most famous political figure in Colorado was a crook. Bruce was convicted on all counts, and will be sentenced on Feb. 13. He could get up to 12 years in jail and be fined $750,000.

You haven't seen the last of Douglas Bruce, though. He has sworn to appeal the verdict.

 

 

 

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