Money spent on election to be released Dec. 4
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” The winners of this year’s two Garfield County commissioner races will have been known for at least a month.
But when Dec. 4 comes around, area residents may have a clearer picture of the amount of money spent on those two races. That day is when the candidates, along with groups that may have independently spent money to support their campaigns, have to file their latest campaign finance reports with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
Those reports may document how much money was thrown around by outside groups during the waning days of this year’s two highly competitive and close county commissioner races.
Already, state records and an estimate based on court documents show that organizations outside of Garfield County may have spent about $55,000 to influence county voters. All of the candidates have said they did not have knowledge of the work and expenditures done on their behalf.
Luis Toro, senior counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, said it was very unusual for outside groups to invest significant sums of money into a local county commissioner race, but he added that it wasn’t “unheard of.”
Republican John Martin clinched a fourth term as county commissioner by beating Democrat Stephen Bershenyi, a blacksmith/artist from Glenwood Springs. Martin pulled in 11,148 votes to Bershenyi’s 10,783-vote haul.
In the other race, Mike Samson, a Republican and Rifle High School’s dean of students, defeated Democrat Steve Carter, a Rifle attorney. Samson received 11,265 votes to Carter’s 10,580-vote tally.
The vast majority of money spent on this year’s races seem to have come from a 527 political organization and several 501(c)4 nonprofits, which are allowed to participate in political activities but cannot specifically endorse a candidate.
Here is a snapshot of the groups that spent money on this year’s two races:
– Western Heritage, a 527 political organization, spent $20,000 to support Samson and Martin, state records show. It was funded by the CEO of Antero Resources, a company drilling for natural gas in Garfield County, and former Republican Congressman Scott McInnis.
– Small Town Values, a 501(c)4 nonprofit, spent about $15,000 to support Republican candidates. Its registered agent is the Colorado Republican Party’s outside counsel.
– The Western Organization of Resource Councils, a Montana-based regional network of groups that includes the Western Colorado Congress, spent about $13,000 on phone calls, canvassing and mailers to support Bershenyi and Carter.
– Progress Now Action also paid for an ad in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent that criticized Martin. The group also had a large truck driving through Glenwood Springs on election day that criticized both Martin and Samson.
– The Western Slope Independent, which maintains a blog on the Internet, sent a mailer made to look like a newspaper to area residents. The mailer, which blasted Bershenyi and Carter, was sent out just before the Nov. 4 election.
– The Colorado League of Taxpayers, Western Tradition Partnership and the Coalition for Energy and the Environment also spent money on mailers in this year’s county commissioner races.
While it isn’t clear how much those groups spent on the mailers they sent, a complaint filed against the Colorado League of Taxpayers indicates the group may have spent about $7,000 on mailer attacking Steve Carter.
The Dec. 4 deadline is a week away, but it seems likely that most of the money outside groups spent on this year’s county commissioner races came from 501(c)4 nonprofit groups.
That is probably because they are not subject to the more rigorous reporting requirements that 527 political organizations must follow, Toro said.
“What we saw in this cycle were some brand new (non-profits) on the scene that were doing the things in previous elections 527s would pop up to do,” he said. “The explanation would seem to be that there are reporting requirements on 527s in the state that don’t apply to (non-profit action) groups.”
Basically, a 501(c)4 basically doesn’t have any reporting requirements under Colorado law, Toro said. The only real exception is when a nonprofit group spends more than $1,000 in a year for mailers and television and radio ads, naming a specific candidate. If that occurs, the group must file a report with the Colorado Secretary of State.
The only other real requirement is that those groups may only spend up to 50 percent of their funds on political activities, Toro said.
“We have filed a complaint against four (groups) to the IRS saying, ‘We don’t see any indications that these groups are doing anything other than affecting elections,'” he said. “None of those groups were on the ground in Garfield County commissioner races.”
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