By Leslie Jorgensen & Staff Reports
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Douglas Bruce, a former one-term state representative from Colorado Springs, was cited for contempt of court on Wednesday by a Denver District court judge, after the self-proclaimed anti-tax crusader failed to testify about the identity of who bankrolled three initiatives to cut taxes and government spending that will appear on this November’s ballot.
Bruce, a Republican from Colorado Springs, has been suspected of writing, orchestrating and funding the petition drive to put Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101 on the general election ballot, but repeatedly claimed he had no involvement.
According to the ruling, issued by Judge Brian Whitney, Bruce “remains in disobedience” for thwarting attempts to serve papers to have him appear in court on June 11. Now, according to the citation, Bruce must appear in court on July 26 to explain why he should not be held in contempt.
But first, the state must serve Bruce with the court order holding him in contempt, and trying to serve Bruce in the past has proved problematic. Bruce evaded El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies who had attempted 30 times to serve papers to have him appear at the earlier hearing before an administrative law judge. Bruce claimed he’d been vacationing in Pennsylvania.
However, according to a recently reported e-mail response from Bruce, he has assured the state attorney general’s office that he will voluntarily comply and appear in court for his contempt charge.
Several proponents of three ballot measures that aim to slash state and local taxes told Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer earlier this month that they’d received counseling and ballot language pointers via e-mails from “Mr. X.”
At the end of a duck-the-law game, Bruce was determined to be “Mr. X” by Spencer.
Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher enlisted Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to pursue the matter. State election laws require petition sponsors to register and file reports of financial contributions and expenditures, including everything from the costs of printing petitions to payments to petition signature collectors.
The June hearing was based on a complaint filed in January by Kim Haarberg, a former president of the Colorado Contractors Association, who alleged representatives of the anti-tax ballot initiatives had violated fair campaign finance and practice laws by failing to register as issue committees and failing to report financial contributions.
The complaint was filed against representatives listed with the secretary of state’s office for Amendment 60, Bonnie Sloan of Black Hawk and Louis Schroeder of Greenwood Village; Amendment 61, Jeff Gross of Kersey and Freda Poundstone; and Proposition 101, Russell Haas of Golden and Michelle Northrop of Black Hawk.
Most of the respondents claimed not to know the identity of “Mr. X” who communicated through e-mails via email@example.com.
Viewers familiar with Bruce’s Web sites during his brief stints as an El Paso County commissioner and state legislator will recognize the same design and format at the CoTaxReform Web. The political spin sounds like Bruce with one exception — a video of Beatle George Harrison singing “Tax Man” and a noteworthy disclaimer, “for educational purposes only.”
Northrop, however, said that when she’d become nervous about the complaint, Bruce contacted her to offer legal advice and instructions that included deleting their previous e-mail exchanges.
The judge also considered a Colorado Springs Gazette news story that reported eight collectors of petition signatures to get the measures on the November ballot had lived in an apartment house owned by Bruce in Colorado Springs.
After weighing evidence and testimony, Spencer determined that the mystery man is Bruce, the “daddy” of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights that Colorado voters passed in 1992, and a series of anti-tax measures pushed in Colorado Springs over the past two decades.
“This court decision made clear Douglas Bruce’s contempt for Colorado election laws,” said Don Hopkins, a spokesman for Colorado for Responsible Reform, a nonpartisan group of organizations opposing the three ballot initiatives.
“Bruce then engaged others in that same contempt by using them to hide the true identities of those behind these measures,” declared Hopkins.
In his ruling, Spencer assessed $2,000 fines each against Gross, Hass and Schroeder. The judge deemed that the trio had been most involved in furthering the ballot initiatives and chastised them for not giving forthright answers to questions posed during the hearing.
Unless the fines are appealed, they’re to be paid by the end of the month.
Schroeder, Haas and Solan, state organizer for Colorado Campaign for Liberty, did not return calls for comments. The phones listed for Gross and Poundstone, a legendary lobbyist and former Greenwood Village mayor, have been disconnected.
After Spencer’s ruling, Suthers wasted no time in filing a motion requesting a Denver District Court judge rule that Bruce had been properly served with papers to testify in the matter — and failed to appear. And that occurred earlier this week and Suthers filed the contempt of court charge.
Despite judicial findings, the measures remain on the November ballot.
“Bruce’s contempt for Coloradans continues to be made clear. He continues to ignore subpoenas and requests to answer why he is pushing these disastrous proposals,” said Hopkins, who added that the ballot initiatives could lead to “mass unemployment” and drive Colorado into “a second, deeper recession.”
The measures have been opposed by the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Inc. The biggest opponent may be CFRR, comprised of numerous organizations including Action 22, CH2MHILL, Club 20, Colorado Community College Board, Colorado Corn Growers, Colorado Competitive Council, Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, Colorado Concern, Colorado Rural Electrical Association, Colorado Space Coalition, Colorado Visitor and Convention Center, Denver Chamber of Commerce, Jefferson County Economic Development Council, Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.
CFRR is a concern for Bruce and proponents who have posted essays and “Fibs by Foes” updates on the CoTaxReform.com site.
“They don’t care about you and your family; they just want to trick you into voting AGAINST tax relief for you and your family. In fact, they are still using the same campaign committee name from 1994…. They say they are ‘Coloradans for Responsible Reform,’ but they are really AGAINST changing the status quo, to protect the special interests who pay them,” claims the Web site posting.
The anti-tax post said that CFRR could raise vast sums of money to broadcast its message to voters versus CTR that has no paid staff and relies solely on volunteers.
“We can’t afford radio and TV ads, so we rely on word of mouth and grassroots efforts. Every factual statement on OUR Web sites is documented,” said the post.
According to an analysis by the Colorado Municipal League, Amendment 60 would allow electors to vote on property taxes where they own real property, require local governments to allow petitions to lower property taxes and provide November election notices of property issues.
It would require property tax bills to list the tax and late charge, require enterprises and authorities to pay property taxes, and require local governments to reduce mill levies to offset revue. A tax that expires cannot be extended — it would be considered a tax increase and subject to voter approval.
Amendment 61 would prohibit the state from contracting debt by loan in any form, prohibit local governments and other political subdivisions from contracting debt without voter approval, require ballot titles to specify the use of the funds from a loan, prohibit changes in use of money borrowed and place some limitations on how much money can be borrowed.
Proposition 101 would decrease in four phases annually the ownership taxes for new vehicles to $2 and all others to $1, eliminate state and local taxes on car rentals and leases, tax exempt vehicle sales rebates and the first $10,000 of the price, and cap vehicle registration, license and title changes combined at $10.
It would prohibit state and local charges on telecommunications except for 911 fees that would remain at the 2009 rate. State income tax would be 4.5 percent in 2011, and be reduced annually until reaching 3.5 percent.
The CML analysis raised concerns about the economic impact of the measures and numerous unanswered questions about the intent of the wording. For example, Proposition 60 states that a registered elector who owns real property can vote on property, but does that apply to an individual who may reside in another county or state or country?
The loss of vehicle ownership tax revenue will significantly impact state and local communities. The vehicle ownership tax generated nearly $500 million last year that was distributed back to local governments to pay for services.
Proposition 101 would freeze emergency 911 fees at the 2009 level, but the reduced revenue eventually won’t cover increasing costs for public safety and emergency responses.
According to the CoTaxReform.com Web site, “Proposition 101 will help vehicle purchases and accelerate replacement of gas-guzzling, high-polluting cars. This is a more realistic and practical approach than the wasteful federal ‘cash for clunkers’ boondoggle.”
“Colorado taxes are regressive; they cost proportionately more to low-income people. Proposition 101 reduces that unfairness by lowering taxes on basic needs — vehicles and phones. That relief benefits most those who have the least,” stated the Web site post.
Joining opponents, left-leaning ProgressNow Colorado issued an alert last week to Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives.
“Stop this man. Pledge to oppose this man (and his crazy ballot measures),” implored the e-mail sporting a fantasy photo of Bruce holding up a sign, “Disgrace.”
“Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101 are some of the most radical and destructive changes ever proposed for our state. A product of simpleton ‘drown government in a bathtub’ ideology, these initiatives would slash taxes and vehicle registration fees to unsustainable levels and make it virtually impossible for state and local government to finance new construction,” said Alan Franklin of ProgressNow Colorado.
For anyone who didn’t get the picture, Franklin reminded folks of Bruce’s adopted hometown.
“Thanks in part to local ballot initiatives sponsored by Bruce, restrictions on the ability of the city to meet basic needs have seriously harmed Colorado Springs — and adversely impacted the quality of life of every resident. The area’s chronic shortfalls for basic services like health inspectors, police and fire, and even streetlights have repeatedly made national news,” said Franklin.
“Now, we’ve learned that Bruce wants this reality for all of Colorado.”