Pitkin County sets rule for election issue committees
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – A committee that campaigns for or against a Pitkin County ballot issue must report contributions and expenditures once either sum exceeds $1,500, county commissioners agreed Wednesday.
The county is refining an ordinance that clarifies its campaign finance regulations, many of which are established in its home rule charter. The county is the only one in the state with its own campaign finance rules, according to Dwight Shellman III, county election manager.
With little to guide them on the reporting threshold for issue committees, commissioners decided on $1,500 as an amount that such committees have commonly reached in past election seasons in advance of the actual election day. Once an issue committee is required to file contribution and expenditure reports, voters will know who is behind the committee’s efforts.
“In Pitkin County, tradition is to favor transparency in advance of an election,” Shellman said.
Issue-committee spending isn’t addressed in the county’s charter, but the county needs to establish some parameters for such groups as they will be among the entities that report election spending to the county clerk rather than the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
And the state rules offer little guidance on the subject because the secretary of state’s latest attempt to set a reporting threshold for issue committees is mired in litigation and its former threshold was struck down in court.
“As a practical matter, there is no reporting threshold in the state law at the present time,” Shellman said.
Issue committees that will be affected are those that campaign on issues referred to the ballot by commissioners, either of their own volition or because they’ve been brought forward through the citizen initiative process, if the issue involves a countywide vote.
The county’s campaign finance rules also will apply to candidates for county office, county candidate committees and independent political committees formed to campaign for or against a county candidate. They all will continue to report contributions and expenses to the county clerk rather than the secretary of state.
The county’s political parties will report their expenses and contributions to the state, but party officials continue to seek clarification on whether spending they do locally that benefits a candidate or cause must be reported locally. More discussion on that topic is expected when commissioners hold a May 9 public hearing on the campaign finance ordinance.
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