Colorado Campaign Contributions from Government Contractors, Initiative 54 (2008)

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The Colorado Clean Government, Amendment 54 appeared on the November 2008 ballot in Colorado as an initiated constitutional amendment, where it was approved. Amendment 54 closed a remaining loophole in Colorado election law by banning the practice of "Pay to Play".

Amendment 54 was ruled unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court on February 22, 2010. With a 4-1 ruling, the high court said,"[W]e find the Amendment’s deficiencies so pervasive that we must nullify the Amendment in its entirety."[1]

Election results

Amendment 54 (2008)
Approveda Yes 1,130,098 51.21%

Election Results via: The Colorado Secretary of State

Ballot title

The official ballot title for the measure reads:

An amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning restrictions on campaign contributions, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting the holder of contracts totaling $100,000 or more, as indexed for inflation, awarded by state or local governments without competitive bidding ("sole source government contracts"), including certain collective bargaining agreements, from making a contribution for the benefit of a political party or candidate for elective office during the term of the contracts and for 2 years thereafter; disqualifying a person who makes a contribution in a ballot issue election from entering into a sole source government contract related to the ballot issue; and imposing liability and penalties on contract holders, certain of their owners, officers and directors, and government officials for violations of the amendment.

This measure is a: citizen-initiated constitutional amendment


On February 22, 2010 the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the voter-approved ban on campaign contributions from unions and some state contractors was unconstitutional. The high court's ruling upheld Denver District Judge Catherine Lemon's earlier ruling that portions of the amendment were "unconstitutionally overbroad, vague and violate equal protection." The amendment banned sole-source government contract holders and their immediate family members from making political contributions. Opponents argued that the law did not clearly define which contracts the amendment referred to. "[W]e find the Amendment’s deficiencies so pervasive that we must nullify the Amendment in its entirety," said the court following a 4-1 vote.[2][3]

Two legal challenges to Colorado Amendment 54 (2008) were filed on January 28, 2009, in Denver District Court arguing that the law is overbroad and unconstitutional. Amendment 54 prohibits campaign contributions from any entity that wins no-bid or single-source government contracts totaling $100,000 or more. It also prohibits immediate family members of holders of a no-bid contract from contributing to any political campaign or candidate who may have influence over the contract.

The plaintiffs in the first lawsuit are labor unions and political committees representing teachers and firefighters.[4]



The group leading the campaign is called Clean Government Colorado.

The Independence Institute is a supporter of the initiative. But Independence Institute President Jon Caldara said the think tank was not involved in drafting the contracting proposal. Caldara said the Independence Institute and Clean Government Colorado did share the cost of a hiring someone to gather signatures to put their measures on the ballot.

Supporters say that Amendment 54 will help to ensure that government contractors do not gain influence over policy decisions through campaign contributions. They add that by requiring state officials to publish information on covered government contracts, the measure makes information on vendors that receive such contracts easier for citizens to obtain, allowing voters to hold public officials and contractors to a higher ethical standard.

Amendment 54, supporters argue, will encourage more responsible use of tax dollars by promoting competitive bidding for government contracts and discourages instances where it may be easy to rely on entities with existing contracts. Supporters say the measure will also make contracts where fewer than three bids are solicited less attractive by prohibiting political contributions from entities that receive such contracts.[5]

Supporting Arguments

Notable arguments in support of the measure included:

  • Amendment 54 will end "pay to play" practices.
  • Amendment 54 will help to ensure that government contractors do not buy influence over policy decisions.
  • Requiring state officials to publish information on covered government contracts makes information on vendors that receive such contracts easier for citizens to obtain, allowing voters to hold public officials and contractors to a higher ethical standard.
  • Amendment 54 will encourage more responsible use of tax dollars by promoting competitive bidding for government contracts.
  • The measure will also make contracts where fewer than three bids are solicited less attractive by prohibiting political contributions from entities that receive such contracts.[6]


Opposing the measure is Protect Colorado's Future, a pro-labor group that is sponsoring several ballot measures of its own for the 2008 ballot. The group's web site says Amendment 54 "would handcuff working Coloradans and increase the power of the few over the many by taking away the rights of people, like substitute teachers, firefighters and nurses, to participate in the political process." [7]

Jess Knox, campaign director for Protect Colorado's Futute, said he expected donations to continue to come in to oppose both Amendment 49 and Amendment 54. "We expect to raise $15 million to 20 million to defeat these," he said.[8]

Club 20, which represents the interests of western Colorado's 22-county region, announced its opposition to the measure in mid-September 2008.[9]

Republican Hank Brown, an attorney and former president of the University of Colorado, said he believes the proposal contains language that could pave the way for state recognition of same-sex couples, since the measure defines "immediate family member" to include "domestic partners."[10]

Clean Government Colorado Chairman Tom Lucero said the language was included because some companies that bid on contracts recognize domestic partnerships. "We categorically reject the argument that this initiative will create new ground for domestic partnerships in the state of Colorado," he said. "It's shameful that the opposition would use shallow arguments to protect the culture of corruption in government contracting." Lucero noted that he led the fight against benefits for domestic partners as a member of the CU Board of Regents.[10]

Arguments against Amendment 54

Notable arguments made in opposition included:

  • Amendment 54 would take away the rights of people, like substitute teachers, firefighters and nurses, to participate in the political process.

Business leaders join unions to oppose Amendment 54

Just hours before the Oct. 2, 2008, deadline for withdrawing measures from the November ballot, labor unions leaders announced that they would be pulling four controversial measures from the ballot in exchange for business leaders signing on as active opponents of Amendments 47, 49, and 54, including $3 million to help fund the opposition campaign.[11]

Attempts to strike a deal to avoid a business-union clash at the ballot box, led by Gov. Ritter, began early in the campaign but fizzled when Amendment 47 proponents refused to end their campaign and filed signatures to place it on the ballot. However, in mid-September, union and business leaders showed renewed interest in negotiating a deal to avoid the clash at the ballot-box.[12]

Initial union concerns focused on Amendment 47, the Right to Work amendment, but have since widened to include their opposition to Amendments 49 and 54.

Colorado Concern was a key player in the latest talks about the terms under which labor groups would pull their four measures if business leaders help them fight the Amendment 47 and two other measures they see as anti-union. Present at the negotiations for Colorado Concern were Walter Isenberg of Sage Hospitality Resources, Denver Performing Arts Center Chairman Dan Ritchie, and Oakwood Homes' Patrick Hamill.[12]

Talks broke off without a deal on Sept. 16, 2008, at the governor's mansion. But they resumed later in the week.[12]

Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President Joe Blake attended the two meetings in mid-September and sits on the Colorado Concern board. But he said then that the Chamber will not spend any of its own resources to fight the three measures opposed by organized labor.[12]

In an address Sept. 17, 2008, at the chamber's annual membership lunch, Blake steered clear of talk about a compromise, instead calling on the audience to defeat the four proposals sought by unions. Blake later expressed pessimism that a compromise could be reached that would lead to the withdrawal of the measures.[12]

A source from Colorado Concern said Sept. 24, 2008, that they had pledges of $2 million from business interests toward the $6 million the union leaders say is necessary to convince them to withdraw the four anti-business ballot measures. That money would be used in the campaign to defeat Amendment 47 and two other measures the unions see as anti-union.[13] [14] Amendment 47 supporters say they have no intention of dropping their proposal.[15]

Denver Metro Chamber President Joe Blake was asking companies that contributed to the chamber's issue committee, which was formed to oppose the labor-backed measures, not Amendment 47, to shift their money to fight the pro-business measures.[13]

Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association and executive vice president of the Metro Denver Automobile Dealers Association, told Blake his members would not finance the fight against Amendment 47. "Although it's not finalized yet, my belief is that we would not allow our money to be forwarded to a campaign that would be opposed to what we would call the pro-business ballot measures," Jackson said.[13]

The metro Denver auto group has given $500,000 to the chamber's issue committee, while the state auto group has contributed $100,000 to the Amendment 47 right-to-work campaign.[13]

Coloradans for Responsible Reform said Sept. 26, 2008, that it would proceed with TV commercials opposing the union-backed measures (Amendments 53, 55, 56, and 57), since a deal for their withdrawal was not yet at hand. The campaign suspended the ads two weeks previous while business and union leaders worked on a deal.[15]

Todd Vitale, manager for Coloradans for Responsible Reform, said fundraising efforts slowed down during the negotiations.[15]

"Our research indicates that once voters learn about the real impact of these measures, they will vote them down," Vitale said.[15]

Vitale said his campaign had raised $1.6 million, compared to more than $6 million raised by organized labor to fight Amendment 47 and support the measures they are sponsoring.[15]

On Sept. 30, 2008, Walter Isenberg, chairman of Colorado Concern, announced that a deal between labor and a coalition of business leaders to pull four union-backed initiatives had fallen through.[16]

"A lot of progress was made over the last few weeks," Isenberg said in a released statement. "Unfortunately, we were unable to come up with a proposal to which union leaders would agree, and we have simply run out of time."[16]

The statement said there will be "no deal" with labor leaders, and business leaders will instead focus their financial resources on fighting the four union-backed ballot measures.[16]

But Jess Knox, a spokesman for Protect Colorado's Future, said there's "still time on the clock" and that a deal could still be worked out, noting that they "still have two days to pull this off."[16]

The group of business leaders reportedly had raised $3 million to oppose Amendment 47, short of the $5 million union officials reportedly wanted businesses to raise to fight Amendment 47. But Knox insisted the effort wasn't "just about money."[16]

"This is about running a joint campaign, and there are some complex details," Knox said.[16]

The deal was finally worked out during late-night meetings and announced Oct. 2, 2008, the deadline for removing measures from the ballot. Because the ballots are already being printed, the measures will still appear there, but no votes for the measures will be counted.[11] [17]

After business leaders pledged to raise $3 million for the campaigns against Amendments 54, 47, and 49, campaign finance records show donations were received from the Colorado Bankers Association ($215,000), Western Plains Capital ($200,000), ProLogis ($100,000), Vail Resorts ($100,000), 4334 LLC ($100,000), Xcel Energy ($75,000), and Wal-Mart ($50,000).[18]

Those donations were made to Colorado Businesses for Sensible Solutions, an issue committee formed to fight Amendments 54, 47, and 49. The contributions are still nearly $2 million short of the amount pledged by Oct. 10th, but Walter Isenberg, the lead fundraiser, said businesses would "continue to fundraise until we have met our commitment."[18]

Opposition ad called misleading in Denver TV News analysis

Channel 4 News in Denver, the local CBS affiliate, is again charging Protect Colorado's Future with misleading the voters in a new political commercial it began running in opposition to Amendments 54 and 49. The station's "Reality Check" feature said the ads accusing the amendments of giving special breaks to multinational corporations are misleading, concluding that:

The unions have correctly identified 47,49 and 54 as amendments hostile to their interests. Having said that, 47 and 54 have no loopholes for multinational corporations. Amendment 49 does contain a narrow loophole for health care and pension deductions. None of these measures contain exemptions that would include Halliburton.[19]

Channel 7 News in Denver, the local ABC affiliate, made an analysis of an earlier television ad from Protect Colorado's Future that attacks Amendment 54, as well as Amendment 47 and Amendment 49. As part of the station's "Vote 08: Facts Or Fiction" feature, investigators determined that the ad is misleading.[20]

According to the station's web site, the ad takes on the three amendments without ever explaining what the ballot measures do—instead attacking the actions of the people supporting the ballot measures.[20]

The investigation further charged that the ad claims proponents of the measures were fraudulent and deceptive, citing several newspapers, implying that the publications determined the amendments to be deceptive and fraudulent. But the articles merely quoted people affiliated with Protect Colorado's Future claiming that the amendment's efforts were fraudulent and deceptive.[20]

"It's fiction to imply the newspapers found any deception," the investigation concluded.[20]

Similar conclusions were drawn by Denver's KUSA-TV News, the NBC affiliate, following its own analysis.[21]

Lawsuit charges fraud

A lawyer for Protect Colorado's Future filed complaints on July 8, 2008, with Secretary of State Mike Coffman's office alleging that proponents of this measure and Amendment 49 were fraudulently collecting signatures.[22]

The complaints charges that petition circulators told people that they did not have to be registered voters to sign the petitions and that they could sign for someone else. A circulator also stated, according to the complaint, that she was adding signatures to a petition after it had already been notarized.[22]

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, which is backing both measures, called the complaints "false claims" intended to tie up the initiatives and keep them off the ballot. He said petition circulators were given specific instructions on how to lawfully collect signatures.[22]


The measure was certified on Aug. 21, 2008, for the November 2008 ballot as Amendment 54.[23] Supporters filed 125,000 signatures with the Secretary of State on July 30, 2008. If at least 76,047 are found to be valid, the measure will be certified for the November 2008 ballot.[24]

See also


External links


  1. The Denver Post,"Amendment 54 ruled unconstitutional," February 22, 2010
  2. Law Week,"State high court strikes down Amendment 54," February 22, 2010
  3. 9 news,"Court upholds injunction on campaign rule," February 22, 2010
  4. Denver Post, "2 suits challenge Amendment 54", January 29, 2009
  5. 2008 State Ballot Information Booklet
  6. 2008 State Ballot Information Booklet
  7. Protect Colorado's Future Website
  8. Rocky Mountain News: "Local union gives $3 million to fight right-to-work measure," Sept. 15, 2008
  9. Delta County Independent: "Club 20 takes positions on 11 of 18 ballot measures," Sept. 17, 2008
  10. 10.0 10.1 Rocky Mountain News: "Gay rights issue raised in debate over state contract ballot initiative," Aug. 5, 2008
  11. 11.0 11.1 Denver Channel 7 News: "Labor Unions To Pull Ballot Measures," Oct. 2, 2008
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Rocky Mountain News: "Talks to resume to avert labor ballot battle," Sept. 18, 2008
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Denver Post: "Money tight as business pursues labor ballot deal," Sept. 25, 2008
  14. Rocky Mountain News: Opinion: "FOX: Labor-issues impasse at the precipice," Sept. 26, 2008
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Denver Business Journal: "Ballot issues' TV ads back on," Sept. 26, 2008
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 Denver Business Journal: "Business-union pact: A dead deal?," Sept. 30, 2008
  17. Denver Post: "Ballot talks have evolved," Sept. 23, 2008
  18. 18.0 18.1 Denver Post: "Businesses raise $1.1 million to fight anti-union measures," Oct. 13, 2008
  19. Rocky Mountain News: "REALITY CHECK: Amendments 49, 54 don't address multinational firms," Oct. 1, 2008
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Denver Channel 7 News: "Commercial Attacking Three Amendments Is Misleading," July 22, 2008
  21. KUSA-TV News: "Truth Test: Ad targets backers of anti-union measures," July 17, 2008
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Denver Post: "Unions allege fraud by signature gatherers," July 8, 2008
  23. Denver Business Journal: "Amendment 54 makes it to November ballot," Aug. 21, 2008
  24. Denver Business Journal: "'Clean government' backers file 125,000 signatures," July 30, 2008


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