COLORADO SPRINGS, April 3, 2013 —An order last Friday by the U.S. District Court for Colorado struck down a 2009 law that sought, in practice, to eliminate Colorado citizens’ right to petition. The trial addressed the one remaining principal issue from that law – whether the State of Colorado’s limitation on per-signature compensation for petition circulators violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Sounds pretty arcane and maybe even benign—but if the law were to stand, the right to put citizen-initiated questions on the ballot would be gone.
Colorado has the initiative process whereby citizens can act as the legislature and propose law. Elected officials of all parties hate the initiative: it is a check on their power. Through the initiative process, the people of Colorado voted term limits, spending limits, and to open all meetings to the public—just to name a few.
In 2009 the legislature passed a bill that made it so onerous, expensive, and potentially personally bankrupting that no thinking person would ever put something on the ballot again. It made the proponents of an initiative personally liable for the actions of petition gatherers. The Independence Institute in Denver decided to fight.
The restrictions did not affect the ability of the legislature to put their questions on the ballot. That happens when the legislature simply passes a resolution. No signatures required.
The irony is that the petition, the initiative, and the referendum are Progressive era reforms designed to take control of political parties out of the proverbial “smoke-filled rooms” and give it back to the people. That’s why the political class—professional politicians in both parties—wanted to curb it.
Jon Caldera of the Independence Institute explains what happened under the new law:
“I was the sponsor of our Health Care Choice initiative in 2010, along with our health care star Linda Gorman,” Caldera says. “When the opponents wanted to derail the effort, they used the new law and claimed that a paid petition gatherer misrepresented my initiative to get a citizen to sign my petition. So into court I was dragged. If the opponents won I would be liable for their legal costs. We of course won, but still, my legal costs were about $100,000. This nuisance complaint did what it was created to do—cost time and money. If, however, we’d lost, I’d have had to pay hundreds of thousands to the opponents. I would have been wiped out and in bankruptcy.”
The bill also outlawed paying petition gatherers by the signature. Instead, they were to be paid by the hour or on salary, which would make the process so expensive that only the very rich and politically connected could get things on the ballot. Michael Arno, who has qualified more than 650 initiatives nationwide since 1979, testified that the cost of running a pay-per-hour drive can double the cost of a pay-per-signature campaign.
The Independence Institute was able to get a judge to temporarily enjoin that just in time to get the signatures needed for the Health Care Choice initiative in 2010. Friday’s ruling made that temporary injunction permanent. This is a major victory for the right to petition.
Polls show that on issue after issue the values and beliefs of the self-appointed political class and ordinary citizens are polar opposites. House Bill 1326, as it was known, passed the Colorado legislature with wide bipartisan support, as did campaign finance “reform” in 2002. Both laws advanced the interests of the political class at the expense of the citizenry.
We the people have trusted the government to do the right thing for the people for too long. We cannot have government “for the people” unless we return to a government “of the people and by the people.”
Our constitutions belongs to us, not the political class. Although proposed and written by political leaders of the time, they were ratified by conventions of the people—who rightly only approved the United States Constitution if a Bill of Rights were included.
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights saved the petition process in Colorado last week.
At The Voice of Liberty, we seek to advance the principles of liberty, because tyranny never sleeps.
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