February 9, 2011
Past and present candidates for public office in Colorado Springs have apparently been violating campaign finance laws by accepting campaign contributions from corporations.
City Clerk Kathryn Young said Wednesday the city adheres to the campaign finance laws of the state of Colorado, which she said prohibit corporate contributions to candidates.
Even though candidates elected to office and others who are now campaigning have accepted corporate contributions, Young said it wasn’t her job to analyze their campaign finance reports to determine whether or not they were violating the law.
“It’s not my job to scrutinize,” Young said, adding that she would respond to formal complaints.
“I only accept (the reports). I put them online, and I make them available for the public,” she said. “The scrutiny comes from the public, not from me. So if (candidates) have received contributions in the past from corporations, then the public didn’t catch it.”
But politics have taken a different turn in Colorado Springs.
In the high-stakes race to become the city’s first strong mayor, campaign finance reports are being dissected.
When Steve Bach reported several corporate contributions for the month of January — including $5,000 from The Broadmoor, which is registered as a corporation with the Secretary of State’s Office — questions to the City Clerk’s Office on the legality of those contributions immediately followed.
Laura Carno, Bach’s chief of staff, said the campaign researched whether corporate contributions were allowed and determined they were.
“The way that we’ve read it, it’s acceptable because we’re a home-rule city,” she said.
“Certainly, if there’s some sort of a ruling that says that we’ve misunderstood it, we’ll address that. But we’ve had enough eyes on it that we feel very confident that we can do that,” she added.
While the Colorado Constitution states that corporate contributions are unlawful, the campaign reports that candidates are required to submit to the City Clerk’s Office give contradictory information.
Those reports state that contributions of $20 or more “from a person” must be reported and define a person as “any natural person, partnership, committee, association, corporation, labor organization, political party, or other organization or group of persons.”
The question of whether corporate contributions were allowed was raised at an orientation session that Young held for mayoral and City Council candidates in January.
“At the meeting that Steve and I went to, there was no clarification,” Carno said.
Corporate contributions have helped fund previous campaigns.
Councilman Bernie Herpin said he accepted corporate contributions in the past.
“Ms. Young will give you the official rule, but, as a city candidate for several races, I have received contributions from corporations,” he wrote on Facebook.
Young said those who’ve accepted corporate donations would have to return them to comply with campaign rules.
Kyle Fisk, spokesman for mayoral candidate Brian Bahr, said Bahr was cognizant of the law and returned a $2,000 check he received from a corporation.
“It was inadvertently deposited, but we caught it during our preparation of our campaign finance report, recognizing that it’s illegal under Colorado law to accept a corporate donation,” he said.
After returning the check, the person who owns the corporation gave Bahr a $2,000 check from his personal checking account.
“We still raised the money,” Bahr said. “But we had to watch it and be very careful, making sure we were in compliance with the law, and that’s what we did.”