Steve Davis refunds surplus campaign fund
Steve Davis, the newly elected Ward 1 Glenwood Springs City Council member, is giving back his surplus campaign money to those who financially supported his election bid.
“At the end of the day, we had about $3,500 left over, so we decided to refund a percentage of what everyone gave,” Davis said Thursday.
Those refunds went out along with a note of thanks to each of his donors earlier this week, and came to roughly 36 percent of what each gave.
That included a proportional refund to Michael and Patty Starzer, for whom Davis is remodeling a home in Glenwood Springs and who contributed $4,000 to Davis’ campaign, prompting criticism from other candidates, including Davis’ opponent, Russ Arensman, in the days leading up to Tuesday’s City Council election.
“I’ve never felt like that was my money, but that I was just the custodian of those funds that were given for the benefit of the campaign,” Davis said.
Under Colorado’s election finance laws, any surplus campaign money can either be banked for future campaigns, be refunded to donors or given to a charitable cause, among other options.
“Typically what you see is that money becomes the ‘war chest,’ so to speak, for your re-election bid,” Davis said. “I don’t know if that’s necessary in local politics … and even if I do (run for re-election in four years), I’d rather go knock on doors again.”
The increasing financial stakes in local elections have raised some questions about campaign contribution levels, and what it truly costs to run for a city council.
Under its Home Rule Charter, Glenwood Springs could adopt more stringent campaign finance rules, including limits on individual giving, according to Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act.
It’s something Mayor Leo McKinney said he is willing to consider.
McKinney said he was approached earlier this year by a representative for the Colorado Public Interest Research Group about whether the city would be interested in adopting its own local campaign finance reforms.
“I do think it’s a much bigger problem on the state and national level, but we hadn’t really seen that at the local level,” McKinney said. “But when I saw the size of some of the contributions in this election, my eyes were opened.”
However, it does cost a fair amount of money to run an effective election campaign, even for a city council seat, said both Davis and Kathryn Trauger, who won her bid for the At-large council seat in Tuesday’s election.
“When we first established the campaign, we talked about what it would take to build name recognition, get the message out and let the position be known, we thought we should have about $10,000,” Davis said.
He came close, collecting about $9,500 in total, which will be disclosed in his final campaign finance report that due in early May.
“We ended up spending about $6,000,” Davis said in regards to the surplus that resulted.
Trauger said she “came close” in raising about as much money to run her campaign as she and her campaign committee figured they’d need going in.
“We were right in the ballpark,” she said of the roughly $3,300 reported in her April 3 pre-election financial disclosure report.
Of that, she said she had about $500 left over, which may be used for a follow-up “thank-you” ad, although that decision has not yet been made.
“I do think things are changing” in terms of what it costs to run a campaign, said Trauger, who also benefited from a large contribution, $2,000, from the Starzers.
“It’s a change that some people find uncomfortable,” Trauger said. “But just because someone drops that kind of money to support someone, it doesn’t mean there’s an ulterior motive.”
Davis said it might even come across as rude to turn down a campaign contribution.
“That’s just as personal to some people as their vote,” he said.
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Fire investigators are still working on determining the cause of Tuesday’s house fire in Glenwood Springs, which left no one injured but caused extensive damage.