February 8 2007, 3:54 PM
On several occasions I've discussed the strange political saga of Amendment 41, and now the legislature may be finally ready to tackle the issue head-on. Unfortunately, they may have gone a little too far. As the Rocky Mountain News reports:
Children of government employees could accept scholarships and lobbyists could socialize with public officials under a bill that seeks to clarify the controversial gift-ban law known as Amendment 41. The proposal, expected to be introduced early next week, is designed to prevent a host of unintended consequences of the law approved by voters in November. It does so by listing a handful of exemptions, including allowing CU professors to take Nobel Prize money and spouses of slain police officers to accept donations. It also inserts language that more closely ties a gift to its intended effect. For instance, the bill would allow a lobbyist to take a Colorado Department of Transportation worker out to lunch if their relationship is purely personal. But a lobbyist could not take a CDOT official out to lunch if he's trying to peddle a road contract, according to lawyer Mark Grueskin, a key drafter of the bill. The bill is expected to be sponsored by Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver, and Sen. Steve Ward, R-Littleton. As the law is now written, elected officials and public workers are prohibited from accepting anything from a lobbyist.I have written before about the political maneuvering behind Amendment 41, so I won't repeat that again here (although to fully understand what is going on, you need to understand the political backroom posturing). Clarifying the wording behind Amendment 41 so that kids don't have to forego scholarships if their parents are state employees is a noble effort, but I'm at a loss for why Reps. Marshall and Ward would want to create what would appear to be a humongous loophole at the same time. Read this paragraph from the News again:
For instance, the bill would allow a lobbyist to take a Colorado Department of Transportation worker out to lunch if their relationship is purely personal. But a lobbyist could not take a CDOT official out to lunch if he's trying to peddle a road contract, according to lawyer Mark Grueskin, a key drafter of the bill.If you don't think this little stipulation will be abused to the fullest extent possible, you're kidding yourself. This one sentence, in my mind at least, completely destroys the argument that Common Cause, Jared Polis and others have been making in their attempts to get the legislature to clarify Amendment 41. The pro-clarification contingent has always said that Amendment 41 wasn't intended to prohibit people from accepting scholarships and Nobel Prize money, which they would follow up by saying, "This is about curbing the influence of lobbyists." If that's true, then how can you agree to let lawmakers add that provision about lobbyists being able to pay for dinners "if it is purely personal?" If this passes, every lobbyist in town will continue to spend money lobbying legislators, only they'll all claim that it was "just a friendly dinner." Of course, none of the legislators will ever pick up the tab, but that will just be because the lobbyists are the better friends. Many legislators have resisted the idea of making clarifying statements to Amendment 41 because they don't want to mess with something that voters overwhelmingly approved. The argument against that is that voters certainly didn't think they were restricting scholarships and the like. But voters did think they were restricting lobbying activities. If legislators agree to clarify the amendment, so be it; but they shouldn't neuter it.