Jerry Kopel

Aug. 20, 1999

What's all the fuss about? Federal Judge Daniel B. Sparr ruled exactly as this column had predicted in the March 26, 1999 Statesman regarding Amendment 15, the Fair Campaign Practices Act: Campaign donations to candidates were too low. In addition, he also ruled unconstitutional the $250 limit on gifts to political action committees. But the rest of Amendment 15 that was still disputed before the court was constitutional.

Reason for the long delay by the judge in making his decision was also predicted in the March column. The judge's ruling, a little under 14 months after the trial ended, was held up (the judge admitted) for 11 of those 14 months in anticipation that the legislature would make some amendments to the voter-initiated law.

That didn't happen. The bill to make amendments, sponsored by Rep. Rob Fairbank, R-Littleton, was HB 1010. As it passed the House, the amounts that could be contributed per donor had been increased to $1000 for legislative candidates and $5000 for statewide candidates (total for both a primary and general election.)

The Senate approach, under Senate sponsor Bill Thiebaut, D-Pueblo, was to leave present lower donations alone ($200 for a legislative candidate and $1000 for a statewide candidate) and concentrate on opening up contributions to state political parties and from state political parties.

When the Senate version came up for final vote in the House, the Senate amendments to the bill were approved 35 to 30. But the motion to repass the bill as amended died 28 to 37. Rep. Doug Dean, R-El Paso, voted "no" in order to move for reconsideration of the defeat.

Five other Republicans and one Democrat changed from "yes" to "no" on the final vote. Republicans were Mark Paschall, Nancy Spence, Lola Spradley, Bill Swenson and Bill Webster. The Democrat was Tom Plant.

Sen. Thiebaut's amendment to HB 1010 was almost Machiavellian. Anyone who understood what was happening in state courts across the country regarding restrictive low donation limits to legislators could figure out what Judge Sparr was going to have to do.

If the House passed the Senate version, political parties were practically out from under limit controls. Judge Sparr would still hold the donor limits to candidates as unconstitutional. Amendment 15 would, for most purposes, be of no consequence.

The judge could not "legislate" back into law any pre-1999 restraints on political parties. If he held any new language on political parties unconstitutional, then there would be NO limits.

And Judge Sparr could not "sever" the legislative donation limit from the statewide donation limit. If he had, there would have been a $1000 limit per donor for statewide candidates and NO limit for legislative candidates.

There is one statute and one section of the constitution useful to understand what happens if a court declares a law unconstitutional. CRS 2-4-302: "The repeal of a repealing statute does not revive the statute originally repealed." Section 24 of Article 5 of the state constitution holds no law shall be revived except as it "shall be re-enacted and published at length."

As I reported back in March, three groups in 1996 pushed Amendment 15 on to the 1996 ballot. One, Colorado Public Interest Research Group (COPIRG) demanded that a $200 limit (general and primary total) be placed on legislative candidates. This demand was on an all or nothing basis (no help in getting the Initiative passed). That limit was being pushed by the national Public Interest Research Group, and from what was told to me by other directors of Common Cause, COPIRG had to go along with the national group.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear and may rule on another state's low legislative donor statute. If they rule the limit unconstitutional, as expected, the Colorado legislative session in 2000 might amend our law to include SOME cap on statehouse and statewide election donations, if only to head off another Common Cause initiative. Also the law should require the Secretary of State to post candidate contribution reports on the Internet.

Otherwise, Common Cause will likely be back before the voters in November, 2000 with a new initiative. A smart approach would be for Common Cause to write a statute and not a constitutional amendment, especially with the court rulings to date. Everyone is getting sick and tired of the number of badly drafted state constitutional amendments passed by voters and voided by the courts.

However, any approach used by Common Cause would be known before the legislature adjourns in May of 2000. The legislature could put their own initiative on the ballot to counteract the Common Cause version.

One of the subliminal reasons for Amendment 15 was the hope that evening up the amount of money available to legislators would also it easier to close the gap between Republican and Democratic parties in the General Assembly. It didn't happen and that hope should really be discarded.

Look at the legislature before and after Amendment 15 (Campaign Contribution Limits). In 1998, (after Amendment 15) there were 25 Democrats and 40 Republicans elected to the House. In 1996 (before Amendment 15) there were 24 Democrats and 41 Republicans elected. In 1994, there were 24 Democrats and 41 Republicans elected.

In 1998 there were 15 Democrats and 20 Republicans in the Senate. In 1996, there were 16 Democrats, and 19 Republicans. In 1994 there were 16 Democrats and 19 Republicans.

Forty Democrats, 60 Republicans in 1994. Forty Democrats, 60 Republicans in 1996. Forty Democrats, 60 Republicans in 1998.

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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