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Wrongs and taxpayer rights 

Since last week's conviction on three felony counts, Douglas Bruce has gone radio silent.

In an e-mail, the typically vocal conservative advocate had only this to say of his tax evasion trial: "I am innocent. I will appeal. I will prevail."

According to the office of Attorney General John Suthers, Bruce is facing up to 12 years in prison and $700,000 in fines when he is sentenced in February. And no matter what the sentence, the conviction will surely impact the way Bruce is viewed at large.

But will it do the same to his signature accomplishment, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights?

State Senate Majority Leader John Morse, a Colorado Springs Democrat and one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging TABOR's constitutionality, sees the two as linked: "Douglas Bruce has never been about good government. He's always been about paying the least amount of tax possible. And he resorted to unconstitutional means by passing TABOR, and now he's resorted to criminal means.

"He is so anti-government," Morse adds, "he doesn't want to pay a dime in tax, and he doesn't want anybody [else] to do it, either."

Character study

In its 2008 roundup of the Colorado Legislature, the conservative Colorado Union of Taxpayers gave Bruce the highest score for "representing your best interest as a taxpayer," with a 92-percent approval rating. Then-Rep. Kent Lambert was second at 81 percent.

Former state Sen. Dave Schultheis, a member of CUT's board, remains an ally of Bruce.

"He has been such an icon, for tax-cutting and keeping government smaller," Schultheis says. "He was bent on trying to preserve people's freedoms as much as possible, by keeping their taxes down to the lowest possible amount."

Anyone in their right mind, he continues, tries to pay as little tax as possible. But Schultheis finds it hard to believe that Bruce would knowingly break the law.

"If I had thought for one minute from anything that he discussed that he was trying to do anything illegal, I never would have associated with him," Schultheis says. "I am convinced that he in his mind believes that he did nothing wrong. And that's different from somebody who tries to purposely do something wrong."

As Lambert puts it: "I can't recall times where he lied. I guess you could say that he is principled to a fault."

However, Jeff Crank, state director for Americans for Prosperity and a TABOR supporter, doesn't see why anyone would defend Bruce.

"While I appreciate the loyalty that they have shown," he says of Bruce's supporters, "I'd be awfully hard-pressed to give any reference for Doug Bruce, let alone a character reference. I think that he has shown little character throughout most of his career. ...

"For people like Kent Lambert, I say: If this was [former Governor] Bill Ritter who had a tax evasion trial, you'd be making political hay out of the fact that it was this liberal Democrat that had somehow avoided paying taxes, so why would this be any different?"

For his part, Crank says conservatives could do with less Bruce, adding that his "megalomania" has, at times, been destructive to the conservative movement.

"I think that a great example of that is the slate that he ran for City Council," he says, referring to Bruce and his "Reform Team" in the 2011 Colorado Springs election. "Quite frankly, there would probably be a more conservative Council today if he hadn't run, because they split up the votes of people like Sean Paige, who truly are conservatives."

More than one man

Discrediting Bruce, and by extension TABOR, has been the goal all along, argues Jeff Wright, former chairman of the now-defunct Active Citizens Together, the nonprofit at the heart of Bruce's trial.

"It is obvious though that the only intention of the AG office was to get the 80-point type headline, 'BRUCE CONVICTED OF TAX EVASION!' on every paper in the state," Wright wrote in a Facebook comment. "The subsequent appeal reversal will be buried back on page 20 of the Sports section."

Schultheis agrees.

"This won't have a direct attack on TABOR," he says, "but indirectly people will try to use that personality issue as a justification to continue to erode it."

"There is a very concerted effort in this state to take out TABOR," says Sarah Anderson, former county GOP secretary. "I think that this is all part of their plan, to go after TABOR as many ways as they can, and that includes going after Doug Bruce. They can discredit him, and say, 'See, he's just a tax fraudster.'"

Morse doesn't buy it. As he points out, the attorney general is a Republican.

"Politically motivated? Give me a break," he says. "What's political about making sure people pay their taxes and charging them criminally when they don't?"

Rep. Mark Waller, who bested Bruce in his 2008 bid for the House, argues that the notion TABOR was single-handedly Bruce's work is wrong.

"While it was a citizen initiative that Doug Bruce got passed, there were versions of that, that went through the Legislature two or three times before Doug Bruce ran it as a citizen initiative," he says. "There were a lot of supporters for a TABOR-like initiative before he ran TABOR."

"Tax reform is not going to go away," says Lambert. Of Bruce, he adds, "I guess he's been a consistent, unifying factor, but he's not the only one."

chet@csindy.com

  • After Bruce's conviction, conservatives split on man, stand together on message.

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