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Gazette Premium Content Sponsors of statewide ballot initiatives using "obstructionist" tactics, lawyer says

EILEEN WELSOME Updated: May 3, 2010 at 12:00 am

Several sponsors of three measures that will be on the November ballot have refused to answer basic questions about who was involved in drafting the ballot language, who gathered petition signatures, and who financed the massive signature-gathering effort, depositions show.

Mark Grueskin, an attorney representing government and business groups opposing the measures, alleged in a court document that the “obstructionist” tactics used by witnesses and individuals named in the campaign finance complaints have hampered his efforts to unravel the “scheme of secrecy”  behind the three ballot issues.

Those issues, Amendment 60, Amendment 61 and Proposition 101, would limit the ability of local and state governments and school districts to borrow and spend money.

Petition circulators, some of whom were professionals, collected roughly 140,000 signatures for each of the three measures. About 76,000 signatures were needed, and all three qualified to appear on the ballot.

Louis Schroeder, a Greenwood Village resident, and Bonnie Solan, a Black Hawk accountant, are listed as sponsors of Amendment 60, which would restore TABOR tax limits, cut school district mill levy rates in half over a 10-year period and allow for petitions in all districts for elections to lower property taxes.

Golden resident Russell Haas and Michelle Northrup, also from Black Hawk, are the sponsors of Amendment 61, which restricts borrowing by state and local governments without voter approval.

Proposition 101, sponsored by Freda Poundstone, a well-known Denver Republican, and Jeff Gross, of Kersey, would lower the state income tax, roll back motor vehicle fees, and end charges and fees on telecommunications accounts.

In three campaign finance complaints filed with the Office of Administrative Courts against each pair of backers, Grueskin alleged the sponsors should have registered as an issue committee and disclosed contributions and expenditures. The complaints also allege that a company called ProVote America was heavily involved in the signature-collection process, paying professional circulators a “signature bounty.”

The respondents call the case a “publicity stunt” by opponents. “The problem is, as we said all along, the evidence DOES NOT EXIST. His (Grueskin’s) fishing expedition has produced NOTHING because there is NOTHING to produce. Volunteer petition drives are lawful. He has NO RIGHT  to learn who volunteered to help, or orally supported or signed our forms,” Haas said in an April 20 motion.

Haas, a retired engineer and retired commercial pilot, refused to answer almost 100 questions in a deposition taken March 30, court records show.

When Haas was asked in the deposition how he became involved in the initiative, he said, “We were asked by several people.”

“And who were those people?” Grueskin asked.

“That’s not relevant to the complaint. The complaint is about money,” Haas responded.

In the deposition, Haas began to answer nearly every question with the statement  “We’re talking about money, not petitions. I received no money for this petition campaign. I spent no money on this campaign. I did not open a bank account. I filed no campaign committee organization report because I did not open a bank account. I could not open a bank account because I received no campaign donations.”

As the deposition progressed, Haas used a shortened version of the statement. When Grueskin asked,  “Are you aware of anyone who has spent any money on behalf of this petitioning effort?”

Haas responded, “I have received no money and I have spent no money.”

“Who paid the money to print the petitions?” Grueskin asked.

“I have received no money and I have spent no money,” Haas responded.

“Are you aware of anyone who has offered compensation for purposes of attracting circulators of this initiative?”

“I have received no money and I have spent no money.”

Gross, the co-sponsor of Proposition 101, abruptly ended his March 16 deposition after 54 minutes, according court records.

He echoed Haas’s responses in his deposition, saying “I didn’t spend any money,” or “I didn’t receive any money.”

When Gross was asked who came up with a draft of what would become Proposition 101, he told Grueskin it was none of his business. “You’re asking me if I violated campaign finance issues. That’s the only charge here. And I didn’t. I read the Constitution and the Secretary of State rules, and I didn’t violate those rules. Everything else, you’re just probing my personal life, and it’s irrelevant. And I don’t have to answer your questions.”

After less than an hour of questions, Gross got up and left, saying he had to pick up his four-year-old from day care. “You wanted to go fishing for three hours, but I knew I had 5 minutes of information,” he told Grueskin.

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