Just to clear up any confusion, the State of Colorado does not endorse the “Vote No on CC” campaign. In fact Governor Polis, who endorses the “CC Yes! For Colorado” campaign, spoke at its kick-off event this morning.

The reason you might be confused about the state’s position? Douglas Bruce, the most prominent opponent of Proposition CC, a tax reform measure on the ballot this November, is using the State of Colorado’s official logo on his “Vote No on CC” website:

Proposition CC is a referred measure from the Legislature that asks voters to keep state tax revenue over the limits prescribed by the state constitution. The proposal is so common it has a nickname, “De-Brucing,” after Bruce, whose 1992 ballot initiative, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), added the revenue limits to the constitution in the first place.

Over 80% of all Colorado cities, counties and school districts have already passed similar measures at the local level.

Colorado changed its state logo back in March, all except for one small part which remained the same: the small “TM” in the corner. That trademark denotes that the State of Colorado owns the image it created, and those wishing to use it to promote a business or cause must get permission first.

Intellectual property legal experts agree that trademark rights give the owner the right to prevent others from using that property without first obtaining permission. The use of the logo creates an implied endorsement of the State of Colorado of this particular political campaign position, which could lead an unsuspecting consumer (voter) from mistakenly assuming that the campaign is endorsed or affiliated with the State of Colorado.

When fellow opponents of the Proposition CC campaign share the website on social media, the state logo appears:

Those groups and individuals sharing the post include the Republican Liberty Caucus of Colorado, former state Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), and Independence Institute staffer Kathleen Chandler.

According to the state’s branding webpage,

“the Department of Personnel & Administration will enforce branding standards and maintain official graphics files for all state agencies to ensure proper use of all logos. The logos will be appropriately trademarked and copyrighted to the State of Colorado.”

Colorado Dept. of Personnel & Administration “State Branding” page

Colorado State Department of Personnel & Administration Spokesperson Doug Platt confirmed that DPA is responsible for enforcing brand standards and trademarks for the state logo. He says DPA is aware of the No on CC campaign’s use of the logo and is looking into it.

Yes on Prop CC logo

By way of comparison, the “CC Yes! For Colorado” campaign uses a version of the traditional Colorado “C,” but not the official state logo.

Disregarding state law is a longstanding pattern for Bruce, a convicted felon who has served multiple jails terms for crimes including tax fraud, money laundering, attempted bribery and contempt of court.

Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania court convicted him in absentia of five municipal charges relate to a blighted commercial property he owns in Pittston. Prior to that conviction he rejected the court’s authority in a quote to the Colorado Springs Gazette:

“Direct quote: These people are idiots,” Bruce said. “They think they can demand that anybody in the world go to their podunk little court that doesn’t understand squat about the Constitution.”

Bruce did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

TABOR author Douglas Bruce and former Sen. Kevin Lundberg at Western Conservative Summit
TABOR author Douglas Bruce and former Sen. Kevin Lundberg at the 2019 Western Conservative Summit

In accordance with trademark enforcement legal procedure, it will be up to the State to decide whether to assert their rights against this apparent infringement.  That usually starts with a cease-and-desist letter, which ideally is enough to get an infringer to stop. Given this particular infringer’s legal history, however, that seems unlikely.