There’s no doubt that Colorado has one of the more robust citizen initiative processes in the country to amend our laws and constitution. We are regularly asked to vote on more questions than people in most every other state. And it hasn’t been without negative consequences. We’ve enacted changes to our constitution that have hamstrung government, created conflicting provisions and required us to pay to defend the changes against lawsuits to invalidate the initiatives that are often successful because the citizen-backed measures cannot pass constitutional muster.
If we are going to continue to exercise this level of direct democracy (and polls suggest a large majority of us believe we should), it becomes imperative that we have enough information to make informed and intelligent decisions. Part of the necessary information is to understand who initiated and is backing any such proposal. Understanding the backgrounds, motivation and credibility of measures’ proponents and opponents are important tools for voters to decide how best to vote.
Amid the controversy of congressional redistricting and budget balancing, a bipartisan measure was quietly adopted by the legislature earlier this year that should help give voters more tools. Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty and Democratic Senate Majority Leader John Morse carried House Bill 1272, which requires more transparency and accountability for people who initiate and fund citizen initiatives by requiring them to provide correct addresses, participate in public requirements to get the issue onto the ballot and comply with expenditure disclosure requirements. Violators are subject to delays in getting their proposals certified for the ballot and significant fines.
During the 2010 election cycle, it became clear that TABOR author Douglas Bruce was behind Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, interconnected proposals that would have devastated governments’ ability to serve their constituents. Bruce went out of his way to hide his involvement and to respond to inquiries about that involvement by the attorney general and secretary of state. All three proposals were defeated handily, but not until after millions of dollars in both private contributions to fight them and government planning to operate within them if they were to pass had been expended.
While my preferred response would be to invalidate any initiative in which proponents fail to make required disclosures, HB 1072 will provide the secretary of state additional tools that should provide Colorado voters more of the information they need to make informed decisions. It’s not often that the legislature has to pass a law to tell violators, “We really mean it,” and McNulty and Morse are to be commended for addressing the issue and putting more teeth into existing requirements. If Bruce and other scofflaws continue to go out of their way to hide required information from the public, even more severe sanctions may become necessary.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.