Attorney General's Office Responds To University Questions Regarding New Ethics Law

DENVER – The Office of Attorney General John Suthers today issued an analysis of the implications of Amendment 41 on college and university employees. The analysis is in response to a request made by University of Colorado President Hank Brown.

Among President Brown’s questions to the Attorney General was whether a university employee can accept monetary portions of the Nobel Prize or other similar awards. The Attorney General’s Office concluded that although the language of Amendment 41 is somewhat vague, it nonetheless likely prohibits a public employee from accepting such awards. Likewise, the analysis found that only under certain strict circumstances can a university employee or their dependents accept college scholarships.

In the letter, Deputy Attorney General Jason Dunn points out that basic principles of constitutional interpretation dictate that the plain language of the measure control, regardless of any stated intent of the drafters to the contrary. Thus, while drafting errors may lead to unintended consequences, only the voters can decide to change what is otherwise clear in the text of the measure.

“Our analysis of Amendment 41 has led to some extremely unfortunate, yet unavoidable, conclusions,” said Suthers. “Under the measure, college professors can no longer accept professional awards if the award is monetary, and children of public employees can no longer accept many college scholarships. This is an absurd result.”

“The ultimate goal of this measure – to achieve high ethical standards and transparency in government – is commendable, and I support it. Nonetheless, the specifics of the measure are very problematic. While the legislature can mitigate the problem to some extent, it is my hope that the legislature will ultimately refer a measure to the ballot to give voters an opportunity to correct some of these absurd results that are otherwise set in stone.”

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