Basalt river park proponents question transparency of foes
Opponents of a controversial river park ballot question in Basalt are under fire from foes for failing to be transparent about funding sources.
The proponents of Basalt ballot questions 2F and 2G contend they are playing by state election rules, while opponents are violating the spirit of transparency if not the letter of the law.
The proponents of the river park registered as a Small-Scale Issue Committee, called BuytheRiverPark.org, and filed a financial disclosure report Oct. 18 that detailed their contributions and expenditures through Oct. 13.
Opponents didn’t register as a committee and didn’t file a financial disclosure report.
The opponents have planted hundreds of dollars worth of yard signs, erected banners on businesses on Midland Avenue and distributed a four-color, two-page glossy flier. All the campaign materials share a logo that features a river, Victorian-style buildings and trees with colorful leaves. The logo says, “Vote No 2F. Restore Financial Strength. Support a Healthy & Vibrant Basalt.”
The opponents have a new law that is potentially on their side. The Colorado Legislature passed a bill this year that doesn’t require a Small-Scale Issue Committee to file a campaign finance report if they spend less than $5,000, according to Kristine Reynolds, campaign finance trainer in the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. This is the first election cycle the classification has applied.
A Small-Scale Issue Committee must still register after it either spends or collects $200, she said. It must track spending and collections and file out a report if it tops $5,000 in either category.
‘No organized group’
Steve Chase, a critic of the Basalt ballot questions, said the opposition is a collection of people acting as individuals.
“There is no organized group. People have pitched in,” Chase said. “It’s pretty obvious what’s been spent isn’t very much.”
But Cathy Click, a supporter of the ballot questions, said nothing is obvious because the opponents haven’t registered or filed campaign finance reports.
“You want transparency in your government. You want transparency in your campaigns. You want transparency in your finances,” Click said.
The fliers, which are crammed with information about why voters should oppose the ballot questions, don’t identify any individuals or group as being responsible for the content. They have particularly riled proponents of the ballot measures. They contend the anonymous nature of the fliers made it easier for the producer or producers to fabricate some of the material.
Click said in a statement released by BuytheRiverPark.org, “It would be nice if they told the truth and identified themselves.”
Yard signs expense $633
Chase said he has incurred expenses as an individual during the campaign. He made some of his own posters and “handouts,” he said. He also rented a room at the Basalt Regional Library where he made presentations in opposition to the ballot issues. He said he wasn’t involved in the purchase of the yard signs or production of the fliers. He referred questions to Norm Classen for the signs and Stacey Craft for the fliers.
Classen acknowledged he spent $633.19 on the yard signs and expedited shipping. He said he acted as an individual and declined further comment.
Craft contended in an email that less than $200 was spent on the four-color, two-page glossy fliers. Reynolds said in the case of the fliers, all in-kind work on production, such as design of the logo, and the cost of the paper had to be calculated at market rate, even if Craft provided the paper from her own business rather than a professional copy service.
Craft refused to answer how many copies of the flier were made or the time invested in production of the flier and logo.
The Aspen Times wasn’t able to determine Tuesday who supplied the large banners displayed by some businesses. Tracy Bennett, a business owner, said she was presented with an opportunity to order one by another opponent of the ballot issues. She placed an order and paid for the banner by herself, she said.
Reynolds said a person acting as an individual doesn’t have to register as an issue committee of any kind. If the efforts of individuals appear linked — such as the use of a shared logo in yard signs, banners and fliers — that can create a perception problem, she said. Critics could file a complaint alleging a campaign law violation.
Reynolds said she would urge individuals working toward the same goal on a ballot issue to use caution if it appears they are sharing resources.
“I would probably point them to the law and say, ‘Do you really think you are individuals or is there commonality here?’” she said.
There’s also another perception issue at stake. Many of the foes of the river park ballot questions also have criticized the town government for lack of transparency. This could raise an issue about their own transparency.
BuytheRiverPark.org’s campaign finance report shows it collected $2,980 and spent $1,876.47 through Oct. 13. Gerald Terwilliger of Basalt contributed $1,500. Other contributors were Doug MacDonald, $500; Bernard Moffroid, $250; Cathy Click, $250; Patrice Becker, $100; Jeffrey Jacobsen, $20; Pauline Bowles, $50; and Joannie Haggerty, $100. They are all from Basalt. Other contributors were Loren Wilder of Carbondale, $100; and Katie Tveite of Aspen, $100.
Expenditures included copies and signs at a total of $1,876.47.