By Jerry Kopel
There is bad publicity about alleged corruption in Congress. Will this embroil state lobbyists and the Colorado legislature?
We had one significant investigation in recent years alleging vote trading in the late 1980's conducted by Attorney General Duane Woodard's office. The lengthy report ended up listing only one legislator, now deceased, as a potential culprit and that legislator lost his seat in the following election.
Colorado has dealt with bribery since the original constitution of August 1, 1876 but if you look at the state constitution under Article 5 dealing with the legislature, you will only find Section 40 relating to vote trading.
The rest of the bribery sections (Sections 41 and 42) were moved in 1974 to Article 12. Why? Well the language dealt with all public officers, not just legislators. If you read the language in Article 5, you might believe the bribery language was "repealed". It wasn't, and its a mistake for the legislature's Legal Services office not to mention in print that there was a transfer.
This is how Section 7, Article 12 reads:
(1) Any person who directly or indirectly offers, gives, or promises any money or thing of value or privilege to any member of the general assembly or to any other public officers in the executive or judicial department of the state government to influence him in the performance of any of his public or official powers or duties is guilty of bribery and subject to such punishment therefor as may be prescribed by law.
(2) The offense of corrupt solicitation of members of the general assembly or of public officers of the state or of any political subdivision thereof and any occupation or practice of solicitation of such members or offices to influence their official action shall be defined by law and shall be punished by fine, imprisonment, or both.
Read literally, this would seem to apply to lobbyists and not to legislators. But criminal statutes CRS 18-8-302 and 303 do apply to legislators and other public officers seeking and/or getting bribes.
There have been legislators in the past, who, while serving as legislators, drafted bills for a special interest and were paid for their services. Not a good idea, especially if the legislator then voted on "his or her" bill.
What is interesting about bribery is that consummation isn't necessary. One person could be convicted regardless of what happened to the bribery, successful or thwarted.
Today's changes in the legislative-lobbyist relationship are true in almost all the 50 states. Hypothetically speaking, of course, severe fund raising tactics in some states have turned legislators into bullies. There is nothing improper about "solicitation" during the periods set out in statute or rules.
But when solicitation becomes "demand", legislators are on the cusp of overstepping what is permitted.
Money will definitely play a key role ion 2006. If control of the state Senate comes down to one viable seat, I would not be shocked to see that one senate campaign costing more than a million dollars.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)
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