We want names
Aspen residents are entitled by law and local practice to know who is spending tens of thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat the voter-approved Castle Creek Energy Center.
I was not totally shocked that recent arrival and California attorney Maurice Emmer does not understand that the Colorado Constitution (by voter initiative), state statutes and the Home Rule Charter require disclosure of campaign spending for ballot questions. He claims an unnamed “expert” advised him that his group was exempt from the law until an election is set.
I am a bit more disappointed that longtime local and city of Aspen Election Commissioner Ward Hauenstein’s group is alleged to have collected contributions from donors who have an “understanding” that their money will be kept secret, or, as put in another context, “anonymous.” I believe he has a responsibility under the law to refuse contributions offered under condition of anonymity.
The Daily News quotes Mr. Emmer as saying there are “four or five” people working on the petition drive on the “basis that their anonymity is protected.” Are these contributors? Who offered to protect them from the requirements the rest of us face in running for office or supporting election questions?
It is not a very credible claim on the part of Messieurs Hauenstein and Emmer that they have been reviewing the ad copy ($1,200 per day for however many days plus radio and direct mail) but have no idea who is paying for the ads. Please. Give us a little credit out here. Advertising copy doesn’t arrive spontaneously and disappear without the copy editors’ knowledge.
Campaign disclosure laws provide transparency, accountability and free and fair elections. Voters have a right to know who is behind the misinformation campaigns attacking the hydro project. Voters should be able to weigh the charges on a scale that is balanced by the knowledge that some of those funding the attack would be direct beneficiaries of the demise of the city’s water rights.
The fact is that many upstream water diverters take and consume water from Castle and Maroon creeks. Quite a few of them are litigants in the court battle to strip Aspen of its rights to water. It is entirely possible that the credibility of their charges would be undermined if the voters became aware that those seeking to attack our water rights are also funding a campaign against hydro power.
I do not know how much money these water users are contributing to nonprofits who have suddenly taken up the cause of killing hydro power. It could be that large donations are directly linked to “volunteer” efforts and appearances at City Council by “experts” from around the country.
Anonymous campaigns relieve special interests of accountability for misrepresentation of facts or unwarranted attacks, in much the manner that Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney can claim they don’t have responsibility for attacks by Super Pacs. All of us, not just public officials, have a responsibility to take ownership of what we do and say.
Both Mr. Hauenstein and Mr. Emmer have frequently written the city with legal advice on ballots, on open records and like matters, all predicated on the need for more openness and transparency. I hope they will abide by all of the provisions of the state Constitution, the statutes and Home Rule Charter and disclose who is funding their campaign, how much is being spent and who is being paid to tell the citizens how to govern our affairs.
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