DENVER - Anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce was a no-show this week for a Denver court hearing into who financed the massive signature-gathering effort that led to the placement of three statewide initiatives on the November ballot. Opponents say the measures will cripple local and state governments.
"I've never experienced anything like this," said attorney Mark Grueskin, referring to Bruce. Grueskin represents a consortium of governments and businesses that oppose the ballot issues, Amendment 60, Amendment 61 and Proposition 101.
The absence of the Colorado Springs resident, best known as author of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, also irked Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer, who presided over the hearing. Spencer said the matter could be referred to the Office of the Attorney General for enforcement, and Bruce ultimately could be subject to contempt of court charges. The AG's Office, he added, was aware of events and "was ready to go to court."
Grueskin told the judge he would like to confer with his clients first before any action is taken. Late Friday, he and his clients decided to pursue the matter. He filed a request with Office of Administrative Courts asking that the state “take appropriate steps” so that Bruce’s testimony and the requested documents could be obtained.
During the hearing, Grueskin told the judge his efforts to learn more about who financed the three ballot measures have been hampered by a lack of cooperation not only from Bruce, but from other witnesses as well. "We're just trying to talk to people who know what happened without getting the runaround," Grueskin said.
According to records on file with the Secretary of State, the sponsors of Amendment 60 are listed as Louis Schroeder, a Greenwood Village resident, and Bonnie Solan, a Black Hawk accountant. The proponents of Amendment 61 are Russell Haas, of Golden, and Michelle Northrup, of Black Hawk, and the backers of Proposition 101 are listed as Jeff Gross, of Kersey, Colorado, and Freda Poundstone, a well-known Republican activist who authored a landmark amendment in the 1970s that kept the city and county of Denver from annexing land without a vote of affected residents.
At the request of Grueskin, as well as attorney Scott Gessler, who represents Northrup, the judge agreed to move the hearing to May 24-25.
Bruce could not be reached for comment on this story. He told Gazette reporter Eileen Welsome in an email in January "Do NOT email me or call me again, EVER."
In past interviews, Bruce has sought to downplay his involvement in the three statewide initiatives. But records on file with the Secretary of State's Office show that eight professional petition circulators lived in an apartment house he owns on Boulder Street near downtown Colorado Springs.
Those petition circulators, who have since moved, were responsible for gathering roughly 26,000 of the approximately 140,000 signatures collected for each of the statewide proposals. About 76,000 signatures were needed for each measure, and all three qualified to be put on the ballot.
The three ballot initiatives would roll back property taxes, lower the state income tax rate, prohibit state government from borrowing and abolish most fees and taxes related to motor vehicles and telecommunication devices and customer accounts.
Court records show that Bruce also failed to show up for a deposition a couple weeks ago after being served with several subpoenas. He was also notified of the pending deposition by email, certified mail and by telephone, records show.
During depositions, which are typically taken in advance of trials or hearings, witnesses are required to answer questions under oath and produce documents sought by attorneys for either side. Bruce was asked to bring certain documents with him to the deposition, including records of rent payments made by the professional petition gatherers who lived in his Boulder Street house, as well as any leases, according to court records.
He also was asked to bring any written communication that he had with the proponents of the initiatives, including Poundstone, as well as representatives of professional petition circulation companies.
In a March 10 motion responding to the subpoenas, Bruce argued the subpoenas were "a case of gross harassment." He added, "Bruce has publicly advocated the constitutional right of Colorado citizens to petition government. He has led other petition drives. He advises lots of people voluntarily on how to file a draft, get a ballot title, approve blank petition forms, and collect and file signatures.
"That time is NOT a campaign donation but simply a matter of free speech and voluntary citizen education. He should not be ordered to undergo two inquisitions of unknown length simply for talking in the past year to various petitioners."
Bruce also argued that the subpoenas were "ridiculously overbroad," "irrelevant," an "invasion of privacy," "frivolous," and violated his constitutional rights.
The judge, he went on to say, was a state government employee and therefore had a conflict of interest because if the ballot measures are approved by voters, the judge might find his own income reduced. "The matter should be continued until after the election, or transferred to a forum in which the adjudicator does not risk a financial impact by passage of these measures," he argued.
Spencer refused to dismiss the subpoena.
Under the state Constitution, all campaign finance complaints are referred by the Secretary of State's Office to the Office of Administrative Courts. The hearings are conducted much like any other civil court proceeding.
Once the administrative law judge issues a ruling, it can be appealed to the state Court of Appeals.