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Local political groups under

Aspen Times Staff Report

Three local political organizations are being challenged to set the record straight on their campaign activities or face legal consequences.

Public Counsel of the Rockies, an Aspen-based public interest legal group, announced Thursday it will file complaints with the Colorado secretary of state at the end of 10 days if its demands aren’t satisfied. The organization is demanding full disclosure of campaign finances – contributions and expenditures – from the Committee to Recall Mick Ireland, the Pitkin County Builders Coalition and the Common Sense Alliance.

The recall committee and the builders coalition are being called to task for their spending in last summer’s unsuccessful recall campaign against County Commissioner Mick Ireland. The Common Sense Alliance, a Redstone-based political issues committee, is being pressed to disclose its funding sources in connection with its effort to defeat two transportation-related questions on the upcoming fall ballot. Public Counsel alleges that all three violated the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act by failing to identify the source of their financial support, the amounts of donations and how the money was spent. It announced its plans in “An Open Letter to the Citizens of the Roaring Fork Valley” released yesterday (see related story).

“We checked the records of all campaign committees that have filed with the county Clerk and Recorder or engaged in any activity in either the recall election or the upcoming general election, and these were the only ones we found with violations,” said Public Counsel director Karin Gustafson.

She said a letter explaining the results of Public Counsel’s investigation and a draft of the complaint it plans to file has been sent to all three organizations. The complaints will not be filed if the groups file the proper disclosure forms with Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Sylvia Davis, Gustafson said.

According to Gustafson, Public Counsel alleges that the recall committee understated its contributions and expenditures, and the Pitkin County Builders Coalition, based in the offices of Hansen Construction at the Aspen Airport Business Center, failed to file any of the necessary forms connected with its advertising campaign against Ireland.

“We don’t believe the Committee to Recall Mick Ireland disclosed all of its expenditures,” she said. “There are two voluminous first-class mailings in particular that clearly, on postage costs alone, have not been reported properly.”

Neither Larry Winnerman, the spokesman for the recall committee, nor Steve Hansen, the builders coalition spokesman, answered messages asking for comment.

“I think these violations can be rectified with a supplemental, albeit late, filing with the clerk and recorder,” she said.

As for the Common Sense Alliance, Public Counsel alleges the group is violating state campaign laws in its fight against two ballot questions: Pitkin County’s request to borrow $10.2 million for transit projects, and a proposal to form a rural transportation authority that would fund and manage bus service between Rifle and Aspen.

Common Sense Alliance spokesman Jeffrey Evans said he has no intention of complying with Public Counsel’s demand. “It’s interesting, I’ll literally have the Colorado secretary of state defending my position,” he said, referring to an opinion from that office that apparently supports the Common Sense Alliance’s tactics.

In September, the Common Sense Alliance set up separate campaign committees and bank accounts under the names “Common Sense Against the RTA” and “Common Sense Ballot Opposition.” Evans is the secretary for all three organizations.

On Sept. 22, the Common Sense Alliance donated $1,500 into the account managed by Common Sense Against the RTA, which has since filed a contributions and expenditures report that identifies the Common Sense Alliance as the donor. That report gives no hint about who the original donors were.

Evans, citing the opinion from the secretary of state’s office, maintains the Common Sense Alliance is acting legally. “You can’t make it the price of admission to require every organization like the Sierra Club or Mothers Against Drunk Driving to give up the names of their contributors if they want to comment on a ballot issue. If you did, they wouldn’t comment on any ballot issues,” he said.

Gustafson disagrees.

“He can’t simply dream up a new name and say the contributions are coming from the Common Sense Alliance. The purpose of the Fair Campaign Practices Act is to let the public know who is spending money to support or oppose a ballot question. This is a clear violation of that law,” she said.


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