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Petition circulators link Bruce to statewide ballot initiatives

January 26, 2010
photo - 633 E. Boulder St. Photo by Eileen Welsome
633 E. Boulder St. Photo by Eileen Welsome 

Anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce has sought to distance himself from three statewide initiatives that could limit the ability of local and state governments to raise taxes or borrow money. But records filed with the Secretary of State’s Office show that eight people who gathered thousands of signatures to get the measures on the November ballot lived in an apartment house owned by Bruce in Colorado Springs.

The eight people listed their address as Apartment A of 633 E. Boulder St. They have since moved out of the house and could not be located for comment.  

Bruce owns the two-story house that was built in 1905, according to El Paso County Assessor records.

A neighbor said that a group of petition circulators arrived sometime in the summer, stayed a couple months, then began moving out of the house two at a time.

Opponents of the three initiatives allege Bruce is trying to keep a low profile because he’s a polarizing figure who might damage efforts to get the proposals passed.

The three measures — Amendment 60, Amendment 61 and Proposition 101 — would roll back property taxes, lower the state income tax rate, prohibit state government from borrowing money and abolish most fees and taxes related to motor vehicles and telecommunication devices and customer accounts.

“I think Doug Bruce has a track record that he doesn’t want to have attached to these initiatives,” said Tyler Chafee, a spokesman for Protect Colorado’s Communities, an organization of business interests and community leaders opposed to the proposals.

Gov. Bill Ritter has called the three statewide initiatives dangerous. If approved by voters, local and state governments could see their revenues drop by about $2 billion over 10 years, according to preliminary figures provided by James Jacobs, a Denver-based public policy consultant.

In December, Bruce said, "I don't understand what you're talking about" when asked about his involvement with the proposals.

Last week, he again intimated that he is not involved.  “The proponents are people in Denver," he said.

Backers of the three measures say they are needed to stop local and state governments from taking more money from taxpayers. “When the economy is down, you don’t take the last 20 bucks out of someone’s wallet,” said Freda Poundstone, who supports the three measures. She authored a landmark amendment in the 1970s that kept the city and county of Denver from annexing land without a vote of affected residents.  

Bruce is the author of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, an amendment approved by voters in 1992 that restricts government growth and requires a public vote for new taxes.  A former El Paso County commissioner and state legislator, he has a cadre of loyal followers, as well as numerous detractors.  

Opponents of the three proposals have filed three campaign finance complaints with the Secretary of State’s Office. “The people of Colorado have no way of knowing who’s pulling the strings, where the money is coming from, and who’s supporting these reckless policies,” Chafee said.

Among other things, the complaints allege that the backers did not report expenditures and contributions that went into the signature-gathering effort. Bruce is not named in the complaints.  

The eight petition circulators who worked on the initiatives obtained roughly 26,000 of the approximately 140,000 signatures collected for each of the three statewide measures, according to Secretary of State Office data provided to The Gazette by Protect Colorado’s Communities. About 76,000 signatures were needed for each measure, and all three qualified to be placed on the ballot.

According to the data, the eight people who lived at the Boulder Street address were Belinda Braman, Glenda Bittner, Sean Paul Foster, Jane Harwell, Jackie Glenn Hisey, Thomas Glenn, Steve Rickabaugh and Rick Signorino.

Bruce brushed off the fact that eight circulators working on the statewide proposals lived at his Boulder Street property. “So?” he responded when asked about them.

El Paso County Clerk’s Office records show that Belinda Braman registered to vote on Sept. 10 as an independent. Glenda Bittner registered as a Democrat on July 17. Jackie Glenn Hisey also registered as a Democrat on the same day. Steve Rickabaugh registered to vote about two weeks later and was not affiliated with either party, clerk’s office records show.

Six of the eight circulators living at the Boulder Street address also collected thousands of signatures for Issue 300, the city ballot measure authored by Bruce that effectively eliminated the controversial stormwater enterprise, according to petitions on file in the Colorado Springs City Clerk’s Office.

They included Glenda Bittner, Jane Harwell, Jackie Glenn Hisey, Thomas Glenn, Steve Rickabaugh and Rick Signorino.

Bruce disclosed in a one-page document filed with the City Clerk’s Office that he paid circulators a total of $10,429 to gather signatures for Issue 300. The circulators, the document states, were paid 50 cents to 75 cents per entry.

“I had people collecting on the city petition and whatever else they were doing was up to them,” he said in an interview. “I allowed them to stay at my place. Then they left.”

Bruce declined to say whether he charged the circulators rent while they were gathering signatures for Issue 300 or the three statewide initiatives.

 “I don’t have to explain anything to you about rent,” he said. “It’s none of your business. There was no taxable income to report and the utilities were already on.”

It is legal to pay circulators to gather signatures for local and statewide ballot measures. Cindy Conway, deputy city clerk for  Colorado Springs, said money and in-kind expenses, such as rent, incurred on behalf of an election issue should be reported.

But the law is muddier when it comes to statewide issues. Ballot committees are required to itemize their contributions and expenses, but individual contributors don’t necessarily have to.

According to a review of petitions for Issue 300 submitted to the City Clerk’s Office, the six circulators living at the Boulder Street address in July and August 2009 collected roughly 10,000 of the 23,650 total signatures. About a third of the signatures were rejected for reasons typically associated with petition drives — the signers were not registered voters, listed the wrong address, or provided incomplete information.

Of the approximately 10,000 signatures submitted by the six Boulder Street occupants, about 6,075 were accepted, which is nearly 40 percent of the 15,483 signatures deemed valid by the City Clerk’s Office for Issue 300.

Call the writer at 476-4825.

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