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Doug Bruce: Groupthinking 

Editor's note: This story was updated March 11 to correct an incomplete statement of fact regarding Douglas Bruce's contributions to the Reform Team's committee.

Douglas Bruce's voice takes on a tone of frustration.

"You're going to have to do better than that to find something to castigate me for," says the former lawmaker and current Colorado Springs City Council candidate.

At issue is how Bruce and his slate of at-large Council candidates (which includes Ed Bircham, Richard Bruce, Helen Collins and Gretchen Kasameyer) have gone about reporting their campaign donations and expenditures. To say the least, it's unorthodox.

The five candidates do not have campaign committees, nor have they individually reported any financial transactions to City Clerk Kathryn Young. Rather, Bruce set up a political committee, dubbed "The Reform Team," and has used the committee to accept all contributions and make all expenditures for the slate.

"We aren't a candidate committee," he says. "We're a political committee to support one or more candidates."

As far as Bruce is concerned, there is no impropriety here. The city code (and the Colorado Constitution) define a political committee as existing "to support or oppose the nomination or election of one or more candidates." Bruce notes that campaign checks have all been made out to the committee, not the individual candidates. And the committee has reported its donations and expenditures as required.

However, the situation may not be so simple. City code and the Colorado Constitution also dictate that a political committee cannot be a candidate committee. And Bruce's committee looks a lot like one of those.

Bruce, after all, is its registered agent, meaning he writes all checks for expenditures. A candidate committee, by law, is "a person, including the candidate, or persons with the common purpose of receiving contributions or making expenditures under the authority of a candidate."

Luis Toro, an attorney and the executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, which litigates election-related impropriety, says the situation is suspect.

"To me, if Doug Bruce is the registered agent for a committee, and the committee is making expenditures under his authority, and he's a candidate, it's a candidate committee," he says.

Ethics Watch plans to send a letter to the city requesting an investigation of the legality of Bruce's committee. Young, who says she sees no legal issues with Bruce's setup, says she'll forward any complaints to the secretary of state's office, which would then forward the complaint to an administrative law judge.

City Attorney Pat Kelly says that election law is complex, but there may be a glitch that allows candidates not to report their contributions and expenditures individually in this circumstance. Nevertheless, she laments, "The public is being deprived of information."

Toro notes that individual reporting allows the public to discern who is attempting to influence whom. Other candidates can also use individual campaign finance reports as a way to gauge the support an opponent has.

Which calls into question Bruce's motivation. Is Bruce, who was accused of campaign finance violations in last November's election, trying to hide something? Or is this, as he says, a matter of convenience?

"Why file five sets of reports?" he asks. "We're running as a group, so if people want to elect the group, they give money to the group."

There actually may be a third answer. In February, Bruce convinced Bircham, Richard Bruce and Kasameyer to donate $10,000 each to the committee. Douglas Bruce himself, however, gave the campaign $10,000 and loaned the campaign $10,000. So regardless of his own success in this election — or the fate of his less-well-known slate — Bruce will pocket money left in the committee's account at the end of the election, up to $10,000.

stanley@csindy.com

  • Bruce takes another stab at campaign finance.

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