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Ethics law backer 'stupefied' at furor

Published February 7, 2007 at midnight

The Rocky's Lynn Bartels interviewed Internet entrepreneur Jared Polis on Tuesday about problems with Amendment 41, the state's tough new ethics law.

What is the most surprising thing to you about the reaction to Amendment 41?

I'm stupefied by the attempt that some legislators are making to ban scholarships for kids. I fail to understand why they would want to do that.

I had been more hopeful after it passed that both Democrats and Republicans would be motivated partners in helping to make an ethics law work for Colorado.

I regret the pain and uncertainty that this has caused, especially for students. I regret that what the voters gave the legislature was poorly worded, but I'm hopeful that the legislature does its best to execute it in good faith.

Do you think you sold something to the voters that wasn't so good?

I've observed the state governmental process up close for several years. It constantly frustrated me how lobbyists with resources have special access to legislators compared to regular citizens and nonprofits' lobbyists who don't have the deep pockets to take people to sporting events or expensive dinners.

But surely you've heard the criticism that you're someone with deep pockets to implement legislation the way you want it. Very few people can hire the dream team that you've hired.

One of my core values is that I support campaign finance reform and ethics reform.

But you spent a fortune to help Democrats take the state House in 2004 . . .

Absolutely I did. . . . but I'm willing to be part of the mix in terms of reducing the influence of special interests.

Given what you know now, knowing there were language problems with Amendment 41, would you support it again?

Amendment 41 was poorly worded. And I deeply regret that, and that its poor wording gave the lobbyists a chance to spread fear.

And that's why I'm now working with the coalition to ensure that Amendment 41 is clarified in a way that honors the intent of the voters.

You talk about the coalition. Who is in the coalition besides yourself?

There are a number of nonprofit groups and advocacy groups that are members of Coloradans for Sensible Ethics, including the Colorado Association for Public Employees, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Medical Society and such.

But on a percentage breakdown, how much are you paying for the dream team and how much are they paying?

This really isn't about Jared Polis. . . . For the life of me, I don't know why legislators are more interested in taking shots at me than helping a kid depending on a scholarship to continue her university studies.

I think the unintended consequences are what neither I nor the other proponents of Amendment 41 nor the voters wanted or expected.

But those "unintended consequences" were pointed out last year by critics. Voters were told scholarships could be in jeopardy. It's like saying, "We didn't mean to tell everyone they must wear a red coat" when the authors wrote "Everyone must wear a red coat."

Amendment 41 is poorly worded, but it's not awfully worded. Scholarships are earned by students.

They are not given as intent to influence the parents to breach the public trust. So scholarships should clearly be allowed under Amendment 41.

We feel very strongly that the legislature has a moral responsibility to clarify Amendment 41 to avoid the unintended consequences.

There is a groundswell of people out there who think if the lawmakers change anything, they're just trying to make Amendment 41 easier for themselves. Have you seen the letters to the editors, the blog postings, where people are saying, "Don't you dare change a word"?

I think we have one of the most ethical legislatures in the country, but we live in a time when the public wants strict and just controls over what lobbyists and can and can't do. The public wants that assurance, and ultimately, the reputation of the legislature stands only to benefit from that assurance.

You've mentioned that Common Cause tried to get ethics legislation passed at the Capitol, but it was defeated, and that's why the issue ended up on the ballot . . .

This was about the regular way of doing business, the prevalence of gift-giving with the intent to influence members of the legislature. Those practices are now banned. The common person has a fairer chance of being heard today because of this new ethics law.

There's nothing illegal about you spending thousands of dollars to try to get enabling legislation on Amendment 41 passed, but it's illegal now for a lobbyist to take a lawmaker out for a $9 lunch to say, "Here's my client's thoughts on Amendment 41." Is that fair?

The lobbyists that the coalition has hired are playing by the exact same rules as every other lobbyist at the state Capitol.

Everyone can still hire lobbyists. Amendment 41 doesn't deal with hiring lobbyists. It deals with the way lobbyists operate at the Capitol.

Amendment 41 does not ban lobbyists. We have free speech, and we value that in our society.

Some legislators supported the concept of stopping lawmakers from getting expensive sports tickets and trips. Why didn't Amendment 41 target them only? Why did it include most government employees, such as the snowplow operator who works for some government entity?

How it affects snowplow drivers is you can't give them gifts to do your driveway or do your street first. In terms of how it affects their everyday lives, not at all. Unless there's a gift being given to them to breach the public trust, Amendment 41 has no application.

Are you still planning on running for a congressional seat?

Oh, I don't have any comment on that at this time.

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