Colorado campaign contribution ban in legal limbo
Associated Press Writer
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado – A voter-approved ban on some political contributions is in legal limbo after being temporarily blocked by a Denver judge.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said Wednesday that he’ll likely continue to defend Amendment 54 even though he thinks it has “serious constitutional problems.”
The law bars anyone tied to businesses that hold at least $100,000 in no-bid government contracts from making contributions to political candidates.
It also stops all unions that negotiate collective bargaining for government workers from making campaign contributions and requires the state publish a list of all companies that were awarded contracts without going through a bidding process.
One of the attorney general’s concerns is that it bans contributions to any politician, rather than just ones in a position to award contracts to the contributor. Another is that it would prevent board members of a company or nonprofit from donating to their own campaigns should they run for office.
Despite that, Suthers said he has an obligation to defend the will of voters and attorneys general have historically appealed court rulings blocking voter-approved initiatives.
Acting as a lawyer for the public, Suthers said he has to presume voters knew what they were voting on. But he also said he had doubts the vast majority of them could explain exactly what the amendment did.
“There’s a difference between legal presumption and reality,” said Suthers, a Republican.
The proposal was backed by a group called Clean Government Colorado, which got most of its financial backing from a group led by Dennis Polhill, who works at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden.
During the campaign, Clean Government Colorado ran television ads targeting state Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, whose engineering company won contracts from the Colorado State Fair and who sponsored legislation to pay off state fair loans in 2006.
A legislative ethics commission said Tapia should have disclosed his potential conflicts of interest but said Tapia he violate any laws.
Clean Government Colorado hasn’t said whether it would try to intervene in any appeal and a spokesman didn’t return two telephone calls seeking comment on Wednesday. In a written statement, the group said the ruling would prevent the will of the voters from being implemented in the next round of elections.
Tom Lucero, a Republican who is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey and served as the effort’s main representative during the campaign, said he wanted to see the law prevail but wasn’t familiar with the day-to-day operations of the effort.
Judge Catherine Lemon issued a temporary ruling late Tuesday baring the law from being enforced, saying she thought it violated the free speech rights of unions.
Lemon, who complained about the amendment’s confusing language, still plans to write a formal ruling on the temporary ban. One thing she must decide is whether the disclosure portion of the law – which wasn’t challenged – can be enforced without the rest of the amendment.
After that, Suthers said he’ll decide whether to try to present more evidence to her or just appeal the temporary ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court after consulting with Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.
If the amendment is permanently blocked, it would be the first voter measure since Amendment 2 – which barred cities from passing anti-discrimination laws to protect gay people – to be struck down by the courts, said Bob Loevy, a political science professor at Colorado College. That legal battle lasted four years and ended with the U.S. Supreme Court overturning it in 1996.
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