ASPEN - Aspen City Attorney Jim True said Monday that he will craft an emergency ordinance for the City Council's consideration on March 11 that seeks to ban anonymous campaign contributions of less than $20.
The idea of an emergency campaign-finance proposal popped up at Monday night's council meeting during discussion of a different ordinance involving mostly technical changes to the city's election code. Through that ordinance, which passed 5-0, the city will go back to mailing ballots to voters who have requested them, a policy that was suspended during the 2011 spring election for mayor and council.
Emergency ordinances require four of the council's five votes for passage; at least two council members, Adam Frisch and Derek Johnson, said they would prefer to entertain the idea of campaign-finance reform through the normal ordinance-approval process rather than deal with an emergency ordinance.
"This emergency ordinance is not going to fly with me for this issue," Frisch said. "I'm happy to talk about it and try to get it in there as soon as possible within the normal process of legislation."
"I'm in that camp, as well," Johnson said. "I don't see a huge fear of going through one more election cycle (with it), but I would like to get it cleaned up."
State regulations allow campaign donors to remain anonymous as long as their contributions are less than $20 during a single election cycle. But Mayor Mick Ireland, who won re-election to a third term in 2011 in the face of a well-heeled "Sick of Mick" campaign that was said to have relied on small, anonymous contributions, has long complained that such donations are unfair.
He suggested that anybody could claim they had gathered a large amount of money - thousands of dollars to support or to oppose a certain candidate - through small donations of $19.99 or less but that there is no way to prove it because the donations are anonymous.
"I think the two council members (Frisch and Johnson) need to be able to explain to the public why we can't reform our campaign-finance act and why we are hiding behind a technicality to continue to allow people to abuse campaign financing," Ireland said. "I think the time has come to act. ... The safety of our elections is at stake."
True said an emergency ordinance, which goes into effect quickly, would be in place in time for the upcoming local campaign season. Municipal elections for mayor and council will be held May 7; a runoff, if necessary, would be June 4.
In other business:
• Council members got a quick briefing from Community Development Deputy Director Jennifer Phelan about Aspen Valley Hospital's plans for construction Phases III and IV. Phase I already has been completed with the opening of a new obstetrics unit. Construction of Phase II began in spring 2011, and completion is anticipated later this year.
Phases III and IV - which call for building more than 80,000 square feet of new space - will involve a multi-step review process with public hearings. A final vote is possible in April or later.
A presentation and public hearing are scheduled for the council's March 11 regular meeting.