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Gazette Premium Content Clerk: Campaign finance disclosure optional under city rules

DAVE PHILIPPS Updated: May 13, 2011 at 12:00 am

Colorado Springs City Clerk Kathryn Young added to campaign confusion Friday by saying city mayoral candidate Steve Bach did not have to disclose the occupation and employer of his contributors.

The Gazette reported Wednesday that Bach may have violated Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act by not including the information.

The Bach campaign responded they did not submit the information because campaign contribution forms drawn up by the city clerk’s office did not ask for it.

On Friday, the city clerk told The Gazette by email that city codes trump state campaign laws. State law requires the information, Young wrote, but “Since the city’s campaign finance report forms do not specifically state that the employer and occupation must be reported, it is therefore optional for reporting purposes.”

Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, laughed when he read the email.

“Wow, I disagree with that. If you accept that argument, then the clerk could change the election requirements at whim,” he said. “Really it is the clerk’s job to make sure forms comply with the law.”

Other cities in Colorado regularly require disclosure of donors' employers and occupations, he said, and most just copy the state form verbatim.

“It's very fair for voters to know who is supporting a candidate so they can make their own judgment, it’s all about transparency,” said Toro.

The Bach campaign did not return calls for comment.

State law seems to be clear. Each candidate must sign an affidavit saying it is his “responsibility to become familiar with all provisions” of the state act, which the city observes.

The act states: “In the case of contributions made to a candidate committee, political committee, issue committee, and political party, the disclosure required by this section shall also include the occupation and employer of each person who has made a contribution of $100 or more to such committee or party.”

On Thursday, Young told The Gazette that Bach would have to file the missing information, and that she would call his campaign that evening. On Friday, she emailed The Gazette to say the information was "optional."

This is not the first time there has been confusion in Colorado Springs over campaign contributions. In February, Young said campaign contributions from corporations were prohibited even though candidates had accepted them in the past.

In an about face, Young later said they were allowed and apologized for giving out conflicting information.

Mayoral candidates also differ on what information Young gave them in a January orientation session.

Bach’s chief of staff Laura Carno told The Gazette on Wednesday that at the meeting Young said candidates do not have to disclose that information on campaign reports. Bach’s runoff opponent, Richard Skorman, said Friday he specifically asked if candidates had to disclose employer and occupation, and Young said yes.

“I made a point to ask, everyone heard it. The form did not have it but we did it anyhow,” he said. “In these situations you should err on the side of being transparent as possible.”

Bach, a commercial real estate broker with ties to the development industry, has raised more than $368,000 in contributions, including nearly $84,000 between April 25 and May 8, according to his most recent campaign report.

Skorman, a downtown businessman and former city councilman, has reported his contributors’ employers and occupations using his own form. Skorman has raised a total of $472,406.

Toro said whoever wins the mayoral election Tuesday should work with city council to overhaul city election laws, so future campaigns are not marred by similar disarray.

“Let’s come up with an effective system that fits the needs of Colorado Springs,” he said. “Because the worst of all possible worlds is some people filing and some not, and everyone being confused about what they should do.”

Contact the writer at 636-0223

Campaign finances
To see Skorman and Bach’s campaign finance filings, go to the City Clerk’s election website at http://www.springsgov.com/election.

 

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