Lobbyists will be banned from lavishing lawmakers with sports tickets, golf outings, travel and other perks if voters in November back a ballot measure that aims to clean up Colorado politics.
Jenny Flanagan, the executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a nonprofit watchdog group that supports the measure, says gift-giving at the state Legislature raises questions about whether politicians are overly influenced by special interests.
"People are fed up with the culture in politics," she says.
That portrayal of government has offended several lawmakers and lobbyists, including William Artist, a former Republican state representative for northern Colorado. He says the measure implies that Colorado politics are crooked.
"Anybody who that thinks that taking somebody to lunch or a ballgame or something like that curries some kind of vote favor is totally naive about the process," he says. "There's nothing immoral going on."
Amendment 41, or the "ethics in government" measure, bans officeholders from accepting gifts and prohibits lobbyists from "giving anything of value." The measure also prevents politicians from becoming lobbyists for two years after they leave office, and creates an independent commission to take ethics complaints.
Last year, state legislators accepted more than $200,500 in gifts, entertainment, travel and speaking fees, according to Common Cause. (That amount omits an estimated $1 million in gifts of less than $50 that lobbyists gave but lawmakers weren't required to report.)
For example, state Sen. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican running for U.S. Congress, accepted $341 in gifts in 2005, including a round of golf and University of Colorado football tickets.
Lamborn did not return calls seeking his opinion on Amendment 41. However, earlier this year he joined four Pikes Peak area lawmakers to oppose Senate Bill 51, which placed a $50 limit on cash contributions to office accounts that Common Cause said were ripe for abuse. The measure ultimately passed.
Some state politicians have publicly spoken against Amendment 41, including Sen. Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, who did not return a call by deadline.
Artist, who represents the Denver Broncos, Wal-Mart, McDonald's, TNT Fireworks and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, among others, says the amendment ignores the realities of a political process heavily reliant on the legislative expertise and input of lobbyists. The meals, tickets and other perks are the costs of building relationships at the Capitol, he says.
"For us to be able to communicate, we need to know the people we're communicating with," he says, adding that voters should kill the measure.
Flanagan, for her part, hopes voters will be motivated by ethics scandals like the one that saw state Sen. Deanna Hanna, D-Lakewood, resign earlier this year after demanding money for political support.
"Lobbyists want to change government policies with dinner and a drink or tickets to a game," she says. "We don't think it is fair, because ordinary voters don't get that kind of access."