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Judge puts campaign amendment on ice

Denver District Judge Catherine Lemon Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the 2008 constitutional amendment that severely restricts political campaign contributions. The amendment was challenged in court by a broad coalition of civic leaders and labor groups, including teachers’ unions.

Challenges to the constitutionality of the amendment were filed last January, and hearings started Monday.

Amendment 54, passed very narrowly by voters last November, was designed to prohibit campaign contributions from holders of sole-source government contracts worth more than $100,000. That included labor unions that have collective bargaining agreements with government entities. The amendment barred contributions in all political races, not just those to candidates for office in the entity that was party to a contract.

Plaintiffs argued the amendment violated rights to free speech and association under the First and Fourteenth amendments.

The injunction bars the state from implementing or enforcing the amendment. Next steps could include a full hearing on the merits of the suit or appeal of the injunction.

While issuing the order, Lemon said, “In my mind, it’s not a close case” that the amendment is unconstitutional.

“We are excited that the injunction has been granted and feel confident that we laid out the facts of the case in a way that clearly demonstrates that Amendment 54 is unconstitutional” stated Jean Dubofsky, a respected former Colorado Supreme Court justice and one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. “We are confident that future court rulings will agree.”

The main public spokesman for the amendment last year was conservative CU Regent Tom Lucero, who’s now running for Congress in the 4th District. He argued it was necessary to stop “pay to play” abuses between contractors and government bodies. Its other backers were somewhat shadowy, although people connected to the Independence Institute were involved. The institute has long criticized public employee union involvement in campaigns.

Amendment 54 was part of a tangle of proposed union and labor amendments last fall, some of which were pulled from the ballot and several others of which failed. Because of ballot clutter, there were ad campaigns that supported or opposed groups of amendments, likely intensifying the usual voter confusion about ballot measures.

Among groups challenging the amendment in court are the District 14 Classroom Teachers Association and the Douglas County Federation of Teachers and Classified Employees, plus Kerrie Dallman, president of the Jefferson County Education Association.

Other prominent plaintiffs include Children’s Hospital, the University of Denver, Denver Councilmember Charlie Brown and Dan Ritchie, former DU chancellor and current CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Two suits originally were filed against the amendment, but they have been consolidated.

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