RMN: No wiggle room on Amendment 41

In Blog, In the News, Notes by Mark Hillman

Rocky Mountain News
On Point
By Vincent Carroll
February 15, 2007

Desperate supporters of Amendment 41 are arguing, some even with a straight face, that their attempt to rewrite their monstrosity after voters enshrined it in the constitution is no different from what occurred after passage of Amendment 27 a few years ago.

Early in 2003, they point out, the legislature wrote "clarifying language" to smooth 27’s rough edges regarding campaign finance. That’s all they want the legislature to do today with Amendment 41, they insist. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal? Let’s see: How about two wrongs don’t make a right? As a Rocky editorial complained in 2003 (and remember, we opposed 27 just as we opposed 41 last fall), one popular legislative plan amounted to "a brazen attempt to get around the strict campaign contribution limits that had been approved by voters in last year’s Amendment 27."

Just because lawmakers illegally rewrite the constitution once doesn’t make it any more palatable the second time around.

As it happens, at least one aspect of Amendment 27’s provisions was not perfectly clear. To the surprise of some supporters, state Attorney General Ken Salazar ruled that the amendment did not cover legislative office accounts.

In a recent letter to Rocky media critic Jason Salzman, former Senate Minority Leader Mark Hillman explained as well as anyone why 41 leaves no wiggle room whatever for lawmakers.

"Who is covered [by 41]? ‘Any employee, including independent contractors, of the state, a public institution of higher education, or any local government.’

"What is prohibited? The above [people] as well as their ‘spouse or dependent children’ from receiving ‘any gift or thing of value’ worth more than $50 ‘from a person.’ "

And "person" is defined carefully, too. It means "any individual, corporation, business trust, estate, trust, limited liability company, partnership, labor organization, association, political party, committee, or other legal entity."

Hillman goes on to point out that "in all three cases the definition uses the all-inclusive ‘any’ and then the amendment prohibits legislation that would ‘limit or restrict’ the scope of the amendment.

"If the legislature were to say that ‘any employee’ doesn’t include certain employees or that a spouse or dependent child is not covered when the text clearly says otherwise," it would "clearly violate the plain letter of the law," Hillman concludes.

"Amendment 41, love it or hate it, was perhaps the most poorly drafted ballot issue in my lifetime."

Amen.