Some disparity between reality and political rhetoric is expected. But this year, on Amendment 71, the gulf between proponents’ arguments and truth is gigantic.
Amendment 71’s campaign alleges it checks against “special interests.” But Amendment 71, itself, is of, for, and by the special interests. There is no more powerful special interest than 71’s own bagmen who seek to take away the people’s ability to reform our constitution.
Just follow the money.
The largest cash source for 71 is something called “Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence,” which funneled in a nice even $2,000,000.00. “Vital for Colorado” poured in $600,000.00. The petro companies willing to identify themselves (the above two are also oil, but more ashamed of it) pipelined in $375,000.00. Colorado Concern kicked in $160,000.00. Colorado Gaming Association chipped in $150,000.00. Colorado Dairy Farmers Trust, which claims it is in “Salt Lake City, CO” (actually Utah), threw in $100,000.00. Gary Community Investment Company, which alleges it invests in “Colorado’s low-income children,” diverted $45,000.00 away from those hungry low-income kids, for some well-fed high-income grownups.
Where did 71’s campaign spend it? Over a million dollars shipped out of Colorado to Studio City, California. Hundreds of thousands to pay professional signature-gathering firms. 71 was never a grassroots movement. There is zero citizen clamor to sacrifice our own right to reform our laws. 71’s plutocrats could afford to buy ballot access, shutting the door behind them, preventing the rest of us from proposing future constitutional reform.
Who can afford to write a two million dollar check? Only big, rich special interests. Paying for California-made TV ads trotting out actors pretending they care about you. It is odd that progressive Democrats like Michael Hancock, Wellington Webb, and Rhonda Fields allowed themselves to be put on expensive pro-71 television ads bought by normally-GOP oil money. Fracking rigs will largely end up in poor and less-powerful neighborhoods, and 71 would stop you and I from ever having anything to say about it through the ballot. These pro-71 special interest groups spent tens of millions this year, much of that notoriously to smother ballot proposals that might have given we pathetic citizens some control over our own communities. These same special interest fronts that bankroll 71 also paid off professional signature gathering firms to not work for groups trying to place fracking reform on the ballot. One of these firms, Black Diamond Outreach, this year didn’t actually “gather” all of its signatures, but made some of them up, for GOP Senate candidate John Keyser, using a paid agent the company knew was a previously-convicted forger, pressured to to meet a daily quota of signatures.
The truth-challenged 71 website (taken down after it was exposed) previously answered FAQ “Have proposals like this been tried before?” with “No.”
In 2008, Colorado voters rejected Referendum O, despite big Establishment money that time, too. Amendment 71 is worse than Referendum O. So 71 was “tried before.” It failed. Voters in 2008 preferred to control our constitution rather than cede it to politicians and lobbyists.
The 71 campaign should stop pretending.
So what is the real reason for 71?
Simple. For those who write million dollar checks, is cheaper to buy politicians, than deal with peasants who dare reform our Constitution with good ideas, when politicians fail.
With arbitrary requirements on the residence of initiative petition signers, 71 effectively shuts off ballot access to all but the most wealthy. Just how they like it. Even if an initiative manages to make the ballot, 71 would give 45% of the voters control over the 55% rest of us. Tyranny of the minority. Backwards. Undemocratic.
71 is a solution in search of a problem. Since the 1800’s, the Colorado Constitution has empowered voters to bypass lazy or corrupt politicians by taking reforms directly to we, the people. The system works well for left, right, and middle.
Neither 1990’s Term Limits Initiative, 1992’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, 2008’s political money restrictions, nor 2012’s Amendment 64 Marijuana prohibition reform, would have passed any legislature or governor. Already, it is plenty difficult to place reforms on the ballot, and even more difficult to pass them. The passage rate of initiatives is less than one third. And the Colorado Legislature has placed roughly as many measures on the ballot as have the people. We already have a “check” against bad initiatives. They’re called “voters.”
This exposes 71’s true view: Colorado voters are too dumb and cannot be trusted to vote “No” on bad ideas, and “Yes” on good ideas. The Byzantine, arbitrary, and undemocratic requirements 71 imposes are so impossible that even the 71 campaign, itself, could not comply with them, despite all of its oily cash. And Amendment 71 exempted itself from its own 55% supermajority requirement. If only 50% of voters are duped into passing this, 71 will defile our constitution, forever. Of course, 71 does nothing to restrict legislative ability to place its special interest measures on the ballot. Amendment 71 would only take away your rights, but not the politicians.
Hopefully, Colorado voters will, once again, soundly reject the drastic Amendment 71 as we did with 2008’s Referendum O, and keep our cherished rights.
Robert J. Corry, Jr. is a lawyer based in Denver and former Counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.