Candidates say ‘return to sender’
ASPEN After confusion over state and local rules governing campaign contributions, Aspen mayoral candidate Tim Semrau and City Council candidate Dwayne Romero returned funds to corporate donors Thursday.The city of Aspen has no rules against corporate contributions, according to City Attorney John Worcester; any alleged violations are out of city jurisdiction. But officials from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office confirmed Thursday that the state constitution prohibits contributions from corporate entities to candidate campaigns.Corporations with shareholders and a board of directors can back issues campaigns – like the Entrance to Aspen vote – but not candidate campaigns, said Dana Williams, a member of the secretary of state’s elections division. Limited liability companies, however, can contribute to a candidate campaign up to the local limit of $250, Williams said.Suspected violations must be reported in writing to the secretary of state’s office within 180 days, and written complaints go before a separate administrative law judge for possible penalties, Williams said.”All of my donations are good except perhaps two,” Semrau said, adding that he was careful to check with City Clerk Kathryn Koch before accepting funds from companies. Though he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong, Semrau said he would “err on the side of ethics and return the money.”Semrau gave separate $250 checks to Houston & Gorog Co. and Frias Properties.Romero also returned a $250 check to Frias, then went one step further and returned checks to David Johnston Architects and Reno Smith Architects, two LLCs that gave legal contributions.”When we received that money originally, we called [the city clerk] because we weren’t sure about it,” Romero said. But with other candidates crying foul, Romero said: “The make-good for us was to get the moneys back, and I’d rather be safe than sorry.”City Council candidate Michael O’Sullivan, who received an unsolicited contribution from CF Realty LLC, said, “It’s simply a technical oversight on my part and on the city’s part, and if I’ve violated any rules I’ll return the money.””I think the distinction between corporations and LLCs is useless,” said mayoral candidate Mick Ireland. “I think they should be treated the same, and it shouldn’t be allowed. The whole point of the law is so you know who is contributing. … Disclosure, that’s what the issue is.”Ireland said his campaign has taken no money from an LLC, a corporation or “any entity that masks the identity of the donor.”Semrau said he simply relied on the word of the city clerk and was transparent about his contributions.”I won’t portend to know the spirit of law,” Semrau said, adding that the real whistle to blow is against Torre’s campaign for receiving a check from Kenichi for more than $2,000 ($250 is the limit) for a benefit evening. “That’s not only against the spirit of the law, it’s against the letter of the law.”I don’t solicit corporate contributions,” Torre said.”The bigger issue is … exorbitant campaign funds,” Torre added, citing the big-budget campaigns of his competitors (more than $30,000 for Semrau and nearly $25,000 for Ireland). Torre called the DVDs put out by his opponents “excessive mailers” and professional PR firms wasteful.”I intend on filing a complaint about the Semrau campaign,” said mayoral candidate Bonnie Behrend, adding that the issue brought out the investigative journalist in her. “I think it’s important to turn it over to the secretary of state and let them investigate.”Behrend said accepting funds from an LLC is just a way around disclosing where campaign funds come from.”They know the rules. It just doesn’t pass the smell test to me,” Behrend said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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