Pitkin County campaign finance regs still a moving target
August 10, 2011
ASPEN – Voters won’t be asked to amend the Pitkin County home-rule charter this fall to address campaign finance after all.
County commissioners were scheduled to approve ballot language proposing the charter amendments on first reading Wednesday, but instead agreed unanimously on Tuesday to tackle the necessary changes through adoption of an ordinance instead.
Until the county receives formal clarification from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office on what it can and cannot do regarding campaign finance regulation, though, it makes little sense to proceed, county elections manager Dwight Shellman III told commissioners Tuesday.
“This whole thing is like nailing Jell-O to a tree,” Shellman said Monday, regarding the difficulty in setting a course of action.
Pitkin County has long had its own campaign finance regulations, spelled out in the charter, but has deferred to state rules for anything not covered in its charter. Last year, when all candidates for county offices had to file campaign contribution and expenditure reports with the secretary of state’s office for the first time, the disparity between county and state rules became apparent and the county was ultimately advised it must follow state law in its entirety or adopt its own regulations and exempt itself from the state rules.
Since then, the county has received conflicting opinions on whether it can formally adopt the hybrid approach it has informally relied upon previously, directing some entities to follow state law while imposing its own regulations on county candidates and issue committees. Such an approach would, for example, direct local political parties and school district candidates to file reports with and adhere to state laws, while requiring candidates for county posts to file reports with the county clerk and recorder, and follow the campaign finance rules spelled out in the charter.
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The state is expected to issue an advisory opinion, in writing, on whether the hybrid approach is possible.
“It might be better to go ahead with an ordinance once the landscape stops shifting,” Shellman said.
He’d like to see commissioners adopt an ordinance that addresses the gap in regulations in some fashion by the end of the year, so it’s in effect for the 2012 primary and general election.
This year, when there is no election for any county office, Shellman anticipates any committees that are active on county ballot issues to file and report voluntarily, though they aren’t currently required to do so by the charter. They will be addressed in the ordinance that is yet to come.
So far, Commissioner Rachel Richards has registered Helping From the Heart, with the purpose of pushing voter approval of the county’s Healthy Community Fund tax.
Commissioners were previously offered the option of asking voters to drop all of the charter language related to campaign finance and defer to state regulations, but commissioners weren’t anxious to lose the county’s $500 limit on campaign contributions to candidates. The state has no such cap.
Though amending the charter on campaign finance has been dropped from the November ballot, county voters will see a couple of “housekeeping” measures regarding the charter this fall. One relates to the publication of notices; the other clarifies eligibility requirements for certain county offices.