Tag Archive for Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act

Republicans seek to conceal campaign donors

Scott GesslerAt the Longmont City Council meeting on May 3, 2011, Mayor Baum and Council Members, Santos, Sammoury and Witt aligned themselves with Scott Gessler to set the reporting threshold for Longmont ballot issues at $5,000, an amount far too low for a municipality and not mandated by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court ruling in Sampson v Buescher.

The success of representative democracy rests on the faith that elections are honest, fair and transparent. The office of Secretary of State should NEVER be politicized regardless of the political affiliation of the person holding that office. The Secretary of State is closely and directly involved in elections. He monitors campaign reporting and certifies election results.

Scott Gessler is Colorado’s Secretary of State. Mr. Gessler’s specialty is election law. He is in this specialty solely for the purpose of facilitating Republican partisan objectives. One way or another, Gessler uses his specialty to accomplish partisan goals. It is why he sued Longmont along with Western Tradition Partnership and certain Longmont Republicans who provided legal standing for that suit. It is why Scott Gessler ran for the office of Secretary of State. From this position he can do all manner of damage to the election process. And mark my words, if you are following his actions and proposed legislation, he is trying as hard as he can. For those who want to know much more about Gessler, they can find the information by searching at the website Free Range Longmont.com

Today Scott Gessler held a rule-making hearing on the subject of reporting thresholds for ballot issue committees. It is extremely suspect whether he even has the authority to do this. Law is made by legislatures and signed by governors. Secretaries of State are simply and only charged with carrying out law. Certainly they are free to offer opinions. But that is as far as they can go. They are not a legislature of ONE.

Gessler’s close associate Matt Arnold of Clear the Bench spoke at length today during the so-called rule-making hearing. His position was that NO reporting for ballot issues should be required; but if there is reporting ,a $10,000 threshold should be as low as it goes. Gessler offered an inadequate and insufficient disclaimer. Gessler was the attorney for Clear the Bench. The purpose of Clear the Bench was to remove Colorado Supreme Court justices from office because of rulings the Republican Party didn’t like.

Whatever dollar amount is determined for Colorado, let it be clear that the frame of reference under discussion at the hearing is for statewide ballot issues. Municipalities are, with rare exception in Colorado, much smaller. Contributors are usually fewer and amounts contributed smaller. USUALLY. The blatant exception was the Comcast/Communications Association’s $250,000 contribution to prevent Longmont from fully using its fiber optic network.

The Sampson ruling affirmed the need for voters to know who contributes to what, but did not draw a bright line – intentionally. Longmont should establish a line for LOCAL issues. That line should be somewhere between $1000 and $1500.

Revised address to Longmont City Council — May 3, 2011

Longmont ballot issue disclosure at risk

Eugene Mei, Longmont City Attorney, insists that a recent decision by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Sampson v Buescher makes it necessary to eliminate ballot issue reporting. His reading of the ruling more than suggests that the man is afraid. Is he afraid of lawsuits? Or is he afraid of a council majority who was thrilled at the Citizens United ruling that legalized corporate personhood, a council that would just as soon remove all campaign reporting, but likely worries at least a little about political backlash. Remember – the City Attorney serves at the will of the City Council.

Oversimplified, the ruling held that the application of the requirements to a committee that raised less than $1000 violated its members’ right to freedom of association.

But the ruling was not as cut and dried as Mei persists in asserting.

Council Member Sarah Levison provided a thoughtful presentation covering this case, the Citizens United case and the Doe v Reed ruling that allows for more breadth that the absolutist interpretation offered by our City Attorney.

Levison discussed the ruling with a number of authoritative organizations and entities. However, off camera, Eugene Mei boldly asserted, “I don’t care about people’s credentials. I’m not impressed.”

The ruling in Sampson v Buescher held that disclosure requirements were allowed when an organizations’ freedom of association was not significantly attenuated or when the contributions and expenditures are slight. [emphasis added] The court ruled that there was virtually “no proper governmental interest in imposing disclosure requirements on a ballot-initiative committees that raise so little money.” [emphasis added]

The case adjudicated covered monetary and in-kind contributions in the amount of $782.02 made by five people. And it was applied under the state regulations covering statutory towns, not home rule towns like the City of Longmont. Longmont’s issue committee regulations clearly do not require an attorney or rocket scientist to comprehend.

The subject case involved an annexation of a subdivision in unincorporated Douglas County into the Town of Parker. There were those who wanted it and those who didn’t. Those who wanted the annexation brought suit against the No-Annexation five for failure to register and comply with state regulations.

Their suit was as much about harassing those opposed to the annexation as it was about the law. However, the 10th Circuit failed to see or acknowledge the underlying motivation. The pro-annexation leaders followed their complaint with a subpoena with nine requests. As an example, one of the requests was for “All communications amongst [Plaintiffs] or anyone else concerning the issue of annexation of Parker North into the Town of Parker, Colorado. A lower court refused to quash the subpoena but did apply certain minimal limitations.

Further strong arming was evident by the pro-annexation original plaintiffs when they proposed a “non-negotiable offer of settlement.” The settlement required that the anti-annexation defendants “admit all charges against them and would either abandon their organized opposition to the annexation (including removing all signs and campaign material) or follow all laws governing issue committees.” The settlement offer allowed for only four days to respond.

Apparently having had enough the anti-annexation five filed their own suit alleging first amendment violations of free speech and free association.

The 10th Circuit discussed the Supreme Court’s recognition of “three proper justifications for reporting and disclosing campaign finances.” The third is extremely relevant to ballot issues and speaks to “informational interest.” The Court recognized that there was need to “analyze the public interest in knowing who is spending and receiving money to support or oppose a ballot issue.”

The 10th Circuit acknowledged that “the U.S. Supreme Court has sent a mixed message on ballot issues.” It further acknowledged that “the Court has never rejected a First Amendment challenge to a financial-disclosure requirement in the ballot-issue context,” although it has “spoken favorably” on three occasions. The 10th circuit court also acknowledged that “not all burdens on freedom of association are unconstitutional.”

The 10th Circuit’s ruling speaks out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand it states, “It is not obvious that there is … a public [information] interest.” Yet it cites the Supreme Court ruling in the Massachusetts Bellotti case that stated that the people “may consider, in making their judgment, the source and credibility of the advocate.” That case appended a footnote saying that “[i]dentification of the source of advertising may be required as a means of disclosure, so that people will be able to evaluate the arguments to which they are being subjected.” In that case, the Court wrote, “The integrity of the political system will be adequately protected if contributors are identified in a public filing revealing the amounts contributed; if it is thought wise, legislation can outlaw anonymous contributions.”

In the Colorado Buckley case, the “Court, without distinguishing between candidate and ballot-issue campaigns, wrote…that disclosure provides the electorate with information as to where political campaign money comes from and how it is spent, thereby aiding electors in evaluating those who seek their vote.” It went on to state that “disclosure requirements” expose “large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity.” In Buckley, the Court affirmed that “the State legitimately requires sponsors of ballot initiatives to disclose who pays…and how much.”

After all the back and forth in the ruling of the 10th Circuit in Sampson v Buescher, the court comes back to “when contributions and expenditures are slight.” And it comes back to the requirements of the Colorado Statute, a statute that applies to statutory towns and home-rule towns in the absence of town ordinance.

In conclusion the 10th Circuit states: “Here, the financial burden of state regulation on Plaintiffs’ freedom of association approaches or exceeds the value of their financial contributions to their political effort; and the governmental interest in imposing those regulations is minimal, if not nonexistent, in light of the small size of the contributions. We therefore hold that it was unconstitutional to impose that burden on Plaintiffs.” [emphasis added]

And lastly the court says, “We do not attempt to draw a bright line below which a ballot-issue committee cannot be required to report contributions and expenditures….We say only that Plaintiff’s contributions and expenditures are well below the line.

Longmont power brokers launch perpetual electioneering

Same hammer, different beat(down)

Longmont has, for decades, been governed in the interest of a few select individuals and companies. This long-standing oligarchy remained successfully unchallenged and comfortable until the fall of 2007.

The first hint of trouble for these power brokers occurred when the citizens of Longmont rose up against the annexation of the LifeBridge 350-acre project south of Union Reservoir. A petition for a referendum to reverse a Longmont City Council ordinance had never before been successful, so it was not initially taken seriously. But the signature-gathering effort produced almost one-third more signatures than were required to place the matter before the voters in a special election.

On the heels of this success, the citizens of Longmont elected a council majority with a view to a different future.

When the new majority took legislative and legal action to block Firelight Park and the LifeBridge project from annexation into Firestone, all-out war was declared on what they referred to as the Benker Bloc (after former City Council member Karen Benker) or the Bloc of Four. These properties and developments were owned by members of city power brokers, chiefly developers and real estate special interests, many of whom are also members of LifeBridge Christian Church.

From that point forward there was a fierce determination to reclaim Longmont for the interests of the few, rather than the many. The rhetoric talked about “taking back Longmont.” The current mayor’s wife Stephanie Baum even had a blog with that name.

The first front in this war was the Longmont Times-Call. The conservative politics of the Times-Call has never been a secret. (See “Is there a bias? You tell me.”)

Out of hours of council discussion on a variety of topics, the Times-Call published a constant drumbeat of strategically chosen topics prominently placed above the fold with headlines chosen for their negative implications. Quotes within articles continued its derogatory objectives, and slanted coverage was given to positions that the paper opposed.

Letters to the editor were selectively placed to enhance the political position of the Times-Call and of those in the community and on council that it supported. Opinions of the community were further manipulated by the timing of OpEds solicited and printed.

The Times-Call hammered mercilessly on the “Benker” council.

After the November 2008 Democratic mandate at the national level, conservatives recognized that they could be headed for a permanent minority. At the local level, the heavy artillery appeared from both within and outside Colorado targeting the swing community of Longmont.

Operatives and their money came from D.C./Virginia, Montana, and from the Tom DeLay organization, Coalition for a Conservative Majority, who made no secret of its focus and targeting.

Scott Gessler, Republican candidate for Secretary of State, manufactured a lawsuit against the city and its Fair Campaign Practices Act. The LFCPA established sensible contribution limits and provided for greater transparency and disclosure. Only 19 words were struck from the Act because of the court’s temporary restraining order.

The Times-Call created a political improvised explosive device of its own with its court challenge of council executive sessions for legal advice on the annexation lawsuits—knowing full well that council actions were legitimate.

These strategies and tactics were very effective in agitating the public.

Rabidly anti-environmental and property rights absolutist organizations like Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) and Coloradans for Economic Growth bankrolled the attack campaigns during the 2009 election season. The winning candidates claim they had neither connection with, nor knowledge of, the activities of the WTP front organization Longmont Leadership Committee. If you believe that, then I have some beachfront property along the Gulf coast you might like to see.

Upon election, the new majority needed no other votes than their own to force settlements of these lawsuits, effectively using taxpayer dollars to reimburse campaign activities that placed them in office. The $182,000 dispersed to their endorsers to “settle” the lawsuits give a whole new meaning to publicly-funded campaigns. ($100,000 to LifeBridge/Firestone, $68,500 to the Longmont Realtors Association and Western Tradition Partnership plaintiffs and concealed donors, and $13,500 to the Times-Call.)

The incredible irony is that Mayor Baum and his troops have claimed and continue to claim that citizens’ free speech rights have been violated by the LFCPA. Given the content of the mailers that Longmont voters received from Longmont Leadership, that would be humorous if it weren’t so deplorable. The new majority has voted to dismantle the portions of the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act that provide for the most transparency, accountability and enforcement that is free from political influence.

The new council and those it represents want opposing speech squelched. They floated a balloon that popped when they sought to limit and rearrange the timing of the Public Invited to be Heard section of council meetings.

However, the best way to silence opposing voices is to remove them altogether from the council where their views receive a weekly airing. And that’s exactly the objective. The remaining three council members have been targeted for extinction. Sarah Levison received the opening shot across the election bow by blogger Wrongmont Rodriguez in the Times-Call on May 22nd.

The objectives, the strategies, the tactics are now exposed. This cat is out of the bag! The community will no longer stand for a repeat of the politically deplorable behavior from the take-back-Longmont crowd that has occurred since the 2007 election. Elections do, indeed, have consequences.

Violations of Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act

The following is the complete text of the complaints filed with Longmont City Clerk Valeria Skitt. Exhibits are available from the Longmont City Clerk’s office.

Report on Alleged Violation of LFCPA

Submitted by Kaye Fissinger
July 13, 2010

The LFCPA defines an “issue committee” as follows: (2.04.203)

“Issue committee” means two or more persons who are elected, appointed, or chosen, or have associated themselves for the purpose of accepting contributions and making expenditures to support or oppose any ballot issue or ballot question. “Issue committee” does not include political committees or candidate committees. A married couple shall not be considered an “issue committee.”

The LFCPA defines a “political committee” as follows: (2.04.203)

“Political committee” means two or more persons who are elected, appointed, or chosen, or have associated themselves for the purpose of making contributions to candidate committees, issue committees, or other political committees, or for the purpose of making independent expenditures. “Political committee” does not include issue committees, candidate committees, or married couples.

I hereby allege that the issue committee known as Longmont Watch has violated the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act (LFCPA). Longmont Watch came into existence to oppose collective bargaining for Longmont’s fire and police employees, an issue on the November 2008 ballot, and is, therefore, an issue committee. At the time of its formation, there were no local candidates running for office. Further, Longmont Watch, made no contribution to any candidate that was running for any office during the 2008 election cycle, as evidenced by their expenditure reports. (Exhibit A)

Longmont Watch had a balance of $791.85 in its report December 3, 2008 and the balanced remained until it was dispersed in three equal portions to three candidates for Longmont City Council on September 24, 2009. (Exhibit B)

Section 2.04.205 Section C of LFCPA states: “Unexpended contribution to an issue committee may be donated to any charitable organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service or returned to the contributor.

Longmont Watch dispersed the remaining balance in their account to each of three candidate committees divided equally ($263.95) to Katie Witt, Alex Sammoury and Gabe Santos. The LFPCA does not permit an issue committee to disperse unexpended funds to a candidate committee.

The LFCPA defines “conduit” as follows: (2.04.203)

“Conduit” means a person who transmits any contribution from another person directly to a candidate, candidate committee or issue committee with the intent of hiding the identity of the contributor.

By dispersing funds to the three candidate committees, the registered agent acted as a conduit for contributions made by individuals to the issue committee. Further, an examination of the names of contributors to Longmont Watch certain names were also contributors to these candidates.

Section 2.04.104 Section F parts 1 and 2 of the LFCPA set contribution limits as follows:

1. A natural person shall not contribute more than $200.00 to any one candidate committee for an election or special election, except that this limit shall not apply to contributions by a candidate to the candidate’s own committee.
2. Persons, other than natural persons, shall not contribute more than $500.00 to any one candidate
committee for an election or special election.

Three contributors to Longmont Watch made maximum contributions to a candidate(s) committee:

Chris Treharne: $200 to Alex Sammoury
Stephen Strong : $200 to Katie Witt
Steve Strong: $200 to Gabe Santos
Frontier Companies: $500 to Gabe Santos

Inasmuch as contributions accepted by Longmont Watch were not segregated by contributor, subsequent contributions made to the afore-mentioned candidates resulted in excess contributions received by said candidates from the named individuals and company. Gabe Santos, Katie Witt and Alex Sammoury failed to return the illegal contributions either within the designated 72-hour time period or as disallowed by LFCPA 2.04.205 Section C.

The LFCPA provides for penalties for violations in 2.04.211 Section C as follows:

• Use of unexpended campaign funds in violation of this Act – $400.
• Acting as a conduit in violation of this Act – $400 for each violation.
• Accepting contributions in excess of the amounts allowed by this Act – $400, except that it shall not be considered a violation if the candidate or issue committee returns the contribution within 72 hours of its receipt. Each such contribution accepted in excess of the amounts allowed by this Act shall be a separate violation.

No legal or formal changes to the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act have yet been made. Therefore, the outlined violations must be pursued and prosecuted under the LFCPA as it currently exists.

The following are attached:

Exhibit A: Expenditure Reports for Longmont Watch
Exhibit B: Expenditure Report for Longmont Watch documenting contributions to Alex Sammoury, Katie Witt and Gabe Santos
Exhibit C: Summary of Longmont Watch contributors with highlighted names who also contributed to the candidates named above.
Exhibit D: Evidence of maximum contributions by Frontier Companies, Steven Strong, and Chris Treharne to candidates Sammoury, Witt and/or Santos