Aspen council to deliberate on campaign finance rule |

Aspen council to deliberate on campaign finance rule

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Monday decided to pursue a debate on the issue of prohibiting anonymous campaign donations, but any potential change wouldn’t take effect until after the spring election cycle involving mayoral and council races.

State regulations allow campaign donors to remain anonymous as long as their contributions are less than $20 during a single election cycle. However, Mayor Mick Ireland – who was re-elected in May 2011 amid a “Sick of Mick” campaign that was said to have relied on anonymous contributions of less than $20 each – has long complained that such donations are unfair.

Ireland has called for campaign finance transparency, and City Attorney Jim True has crafted a proposed ordinance that requires all individuals running for city elected office to name the donors, regardless of the amount.

During Monday’s meeting, council members voted unanimously to introduce the ordinance but decided not to rush into its passage. A second reading, which involves further discussion, a public hearing and a possible vote, is scheduled for April 8. Should the measure pass, it won’t take effect until July 1. The municipal elections are set for May 7; runoffs, if necessary, would be held June 4.

All four council members are running for mayor. Councilmen Derek Johnson and Adam Frisch said that while they were open to the idea of banning anonymous donations, they didn’t want to change the rules in the middle of the political season. If the council were to adopt the ordinance at its next meeting Monday, it would have taken effect April 17, 20 days before the election.

Councilman Steve Skadron said he had no problem with amending the campaign finance rules within the political campaign. Councilman Torre said he needed more time to study the issue and wanted information on the potential benefits of allowing small, anonymous donations.

Ireland offered up the compromise of waiting a month to hold the public hearing and postponing the ordinance’s potential implementation.

But the mayor left no doubt about his support for the change.

“Anonymity encourages verbal violence, graffiti, name-calling,” Ireland said. “I offer as evidence not just the people who put my name (on signs) in other people’s yards without their consent but the national picture. We all know that national campaigns have become increasingly negative because there is no accountability to the donors for what they’re saying.”

After the meeting, Aspen resident Elizabeth Milias, who operated the “Sick of Mick” campaign that blasted the message throughout the community, said her donors were never anonymous.

“I have a list of each and every one of them and the exact amounts they donated,” she said. “Per city law, I only reported those $20 and above. The enthusiasm for the ‘Sick of Mick’ campaign was shown by the numerous citizens and city employees who donated less than $20 because they knew their names would not be reported.”

She called the measure a “laughable attempt by council to legislate civility” and “another misplaced effort to suppress free speech.” The $20 reporting limit was designed specifically to protect small donors from voter intimidation, she said.

“If the law is changed, it will be very easy for those who formerly registered ‘issue committees’ to simply form 501(c)4 organizations in order to participate in the election process without any responsibility to report anything whatsoever,” Milias said. “I believe the current law places adequate checks and balances upon registered committees, and it’s better to know something as opposed to nothing when it comes to campaign reporting.”

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