A former Senate Republican leader, who carried legislation to enact a campaign-reform amendment approved by voters in 2002, says his bill was fundamentally different from a now-pending attempt to exempt large groups of people from voter-approved Amendment 41.
Mark Hillman, who served as Senate majority leader in 2003-04 and as minority leader in 2005, was Senate sponsor of a 2003 bill that implemented Amendment 27. Hillman disputes current claims that the bill made substantive changes to Amendment 27 in the way that some now propose for Amendment 41, the government-ethics law voters adopted last November.
“Legislators are in a real bind. Either they uphold the plain language of the constitution, which is the first oath that they take, or they do what is politically popular and ignore the plain language of the constitution.”
“(The enacting bill) did not narrow the plain language of Amendment 27,” Hillman said. “House Bill 1132 could have been written to cast a broader net, but you cannot go into that bill and find anything that directly contradicts the plain language of Amendment 27.”
Some of Amendment 41’s original backers, who now advocate far-reaching changes to the constitutional amendment, are pushing the General Assembly to take up that task through enacting legislation. They contend that lawmakers did the same thing when they implemented Amendment 27.
Hillman says the comparison doesn’t hold water. He said the General Assembly in 2003 only provided some definitions where there was a lack of clarity in the campaign-reform measure, but some of the changes now being proposed for Amendment 41, “would loosen the restrictions that are clearly written into Amendment 41.”
Many lawmakers in both parties, including Senate President Pro-tem Peter Groff, D-Denver, Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, and House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said only the voters can authorize such changes because Amendment 41 is now part of the constitution.
“Legislators are in a real bind,” he said. “Either they uphold the plain language of the constitution, which is the first oath that they take, or they do what is politically popular and ignore the plain language of the constitution.”
Amendment 41’s wide-ranging ethics rules for public officials have been interpreted to bar even family members of public employees from accepting some college scholarships, or public safety workers from accepting assistance from private providers in an emergency.
As criticism has mounted over the constitutional amendment’s unintended consequences, pressure has grown on lawmakers to do something. Jared Polis, the millionaire political activist who funded last year’s Amendment 41 ballot drive and campaign, has launched an intense lobbying campaign to persuade the public, the press and especially lawmakers that they are free to offset the amendment’s ill-effects. A pending bill that would do that has yet to be introduced.
Last Friday, Groff and McElhany introduced what they contend is the only measure they have the power to propose through legislation, a measure setting up the ethics commission that is called for in Amendment 41.
Hillman said some of the changes proposed to the legislature – like making clear that the measure doesn’t apply to things like emergency relief supplies donated by private sources to a public rescue effort — “clearly contradict the plain, black-and-white language of 41, which prohibits ‘any gift or other thing of value.’”
“The authors of amendment 41 had every chance to write a list of exceptions, and they did write some,” Hillman said. “They could have clearly said it doesn’t pertain to scholarships or emergency relief, or they could have simply allowed the legislature to define what is a gift or thing of value. But they did not do that.”