It's been nine months since the end of the trial of Amendment 15, the Fair Campaign Practices Act passed by voters in November, 1996. On June 16th, 1998 (my birthday) Judge Daniel B. Sparr of the U.S. District Court heard closing arguments. Since then: Silence.
Silence, rather than a decision may be preferable to supporters of Amendment 15. The major issue remaining is the limit placed on contributions to candidates. And the weakest portion of the present law is the contribution limit of $100 for legislative candidates for primary elections and $100 for general elections. Last summer a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an Arkansas Federal District Court decision that had upheld a voter-approved $100 contribution limit for state legislative races.
Of course Judge Sparr and other Colorado federal judges have a large number of motions pending before them in many cases, as recently revealed by the Denver Rocky Mountain News. That may be why there has been no final decision rendered in the Amendment 15 trial.
Reporter Genevieve Anton in a lead article in the June 17th, 1998, Colorado Springs Gazette wrote: "Judge Daniel Sparr gave proponents of campaign finance reform reason for hope by nodding his head often in agreement with the defense and challenging the plaintiff's arguments repeatedly, saying they had no evidence to back up their claims."
One problem Judge Sparr faces if he rules against the $100 limit is that he can't replace it with a new amount. If he rules the language is "severable" from the rest of the statute, he would be leaving future contributions to legislative candidates without any cap while retaining caps on contributions to statewide candidates such as the governor.
Back in April, 1998, Judge Sparr, in a summary judgment upheld voluntary spending limits. But he declared unconstitutional (1) language which required candidates who did not agree to voluntary limits on campaign spending to have to indicate the same in their ads, and (2) have that information next to their names on ballots.
There isn't any time limit for Judge Sparr to render his decision. Perhaps he is waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue of $100 contribution caps. On the other hand, he may issue his decision tomorrow.
Meanwhile, HB 1110 by Rep.Rob Fairbank, R-Littleton, and House Majority Leader Rep. Doug Dean, R-Colorado Springs, is before the House on second reading. Their bill, as amended in committee would raise the contribution limits for legislators to $500, and $2,500 for statewide candidates. Is that amount too much for proponents of Amendment 15 to swallow?
The $100 limitation for legislative candidates wasn't something researched and declared as the best way to go. There were three groups pushing Amendment 15. One of the three, Colorado Public Interest Research Group demanded the $100 limit on an "all or nothing at all" basis. The other two, Common Cause and League of Woman Voters, gave in. So that's how $100 was written into law.
The title to HB 1110 is "Concerning the Fair Campaign Practices Act". That language allows anything to do with the statute to be included as the bill wends its way through the legislature. The measure presently (among other items) also repeals portions of the law Judge Sparr has already declared unconstitutional.
Is Judge Sparr waiting to see if the legislature changes the contribution caps? If the legislature does act, Judge Sparr can declare the issue of the $100 legislative cap moot, and hold the rest of the act constitutional.
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Secretary of State Vikki Buckley showed she's still the boss when it comes to protecting her bingo turf. HB 1187, the bingo bill by Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, was drastically revised by the House before it was sent to the Senate.
Colorado's constitution gives Buckley the authority to license bingo games. But the legislature is given the right to name who will be in charge of discipline: "The enforcement of this section shall be under such official or department of government ...as the General Assembly shall provide."
The Secretary of State has been in charge of enforcement for the past forty years. But state auditor's reports of inefficiencies in management and possible conflicts of interest by Buckley, plus newspaper accounts of lax enforcement have led to several attempts to put bingo discipline under another branch of government. The approach in HB 1187 was a bingo board in the Secretary of State's office.
That's how HB 1187 began life. The bill summary says it "transfers to the charitable gaming commission the secretary of state's authority to suspend or revoke licenses and conduct hearings for that purpose," and to "suspend or revoke the certification of a games manager or member in charge..." and "to examine the books and records" of past or present licensees.
When the bill left the House, on a 42 to 21 vote, (17 Democrats voted "no") the commission, now labeled a board, was "advisory" only. It can look at what's going on, make recommendations to, cooperate with, and offer advice to the Secretary of State. But Vickie Buckley is the decision maker in every instance.
Even in its emaciated form, the board could have been a watchdog, since the bill does require Buckley to give it a great deal of information. But the total appropriation for the board is $4,900 (for the $50 a day salaries of seven board members).
There is no director to prepare an agenda, no phone number people can call to obtain or provide information, no separate post office box office for mail. How is the board supposed to prepare reports, etc. that are required by the bill? Is Buckley supposed to provide staff to produce a board report critical of Buckley?
And what if Buckley doesn't turn over material the bill states will be provided to the board ? Are they going to hire a private lawyer to sue? I don't think so.
If Buckley doesn't go along with board suggestions, or do what the bill tells her to do, the board's only recourse is to use the press and lobby the legislature. So there is a built-in potential in the bill for leaks to the press by frustrated board members.
And in what has to be a slap at the governor (unless there is some hidden agenda), the legislature stripped the governor of the power to appoint board members and gave that power to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate.
As passed by the House, the bingo board is set up for failure, and it will fail.
Some bingo bill has to pass this year. If not, the present law is repealed under the Sunset law and the only authority over bingo is the self-enacting constitutional language. That would mean NO ONE has authority to enforce the law.
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The following is from the Metropolitan Diary section of the New York Times of April 30, 1995. It's appropriate for the season.
"On the night before Passover, Margo Feiden and her husband Julius Cohen, were having a holiday meal at E.A.T. on upper Madison Avenue.
"Do you have any sacramental wine?" Mr. Cohen inquired of the server.
"Oh, no," the fellow replied. "We don't stock any California wine."
Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.
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