Donors to Brady’s campaign a mystery
Contributors never identified
Grand Valley residents likely saw the flurry of campaign yard signs, billboards, pamphlets and other media in support of industrial zoning for Brady Trucking’s riverfront property.
While voters overwhelmingly approved the zoning issue in Grand Junction’s April 3 municipal election, the public may never know how much money was spent on the campaign to support Referred Measure A and who spent it.
Issue committees—much like candidates running for political office—typically must report their list of donors, how much those donors contributed and detail how the money was spent. For Grand Junction city elections, the information is on file for public inspection in the City Clerk’s Office at City Hall.
But proponents behind the campaign to pass Referred Measure A didn’t file that information, despite a request from the city to make the data public. The campaign, which was financed by a nonprofit arm of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the Western Colorado Business Alliance, is a 501c4 corporation and is not required to file, according to state law, the group’s attorney said. The group maintains that because it is not an issue committee, it is not beholden to disclosing its contributions and expenditures as a committee formed solely for the purpose of promoting a particular ballot measure.
The August 2012 articles of incorporation for the Western Colorado Business Alliance, on file with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, indicate the purpose of organizing the corporation is to “take measures to strengthen the business community in Grand Junction, Colorado and the surrounding area.”
Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, furthered the group’s definition to include “providing leadership training, voter registrations and creating white papers on business-related issues.”
Schwenke balked when asked why the Western Colorado Business Alliance did not file anyway.
“Why should we?” she said. “The (Western Colorado Business) Alliance and Brady (Trucking) have done everything that’s required by the law.”
Western Colorado Business Alliance attorney Jon Anderson said he advised the group not to file because, in its situation, it’s not required by law, and doing so may set some sort of precedent. It’s not required because campaigning for Referred Measure A did not constitute the group’s main goal or cost more than 30 percent of the nonprofit organization’s budget. By law, those two triggers would have to be met for the group to be required to report its donors and spending, Anderson said.
There is no way, however, for the public to know the Western Colorado Business Alliance’s budget, absent an audit or a review of the group’s 2013 tax records.
“I can tell you I advised them (Western Colorado Business Alliance) on legal compliance and they were nowhere close to being out of compliance,” Anderson said of the group’s overall budget compared to what it spent on Referred Measure A.
Some citizens called the City Clerk’s Office to complain that campaign materials in support of Referred Measure A did not disclose how the media were funded — in other words, they didn’t see a “Paid for by ...” tagline. The city also received some complaints that there were no campaign filings on record for the committee in support of Referred Measure A.
However, without a written, formal complaint, the city cannot proceed to investigate whether any violations had occurred, according to City Clerk Stephanie Tuin.
The Secretary of State’s Office probably wouldn’t get involved because the matter surrounded a municipal vote, not a statewide issue, Secretary of State spokesman Andrew Cole said. Also, he said, Grand Junction is a home rule city, meaning it is governed by its own charter.
The city’s charter doesn’t have its own campaign finance laws that could, for example, prohibit the scenario carried out by the Western Colorado Business Alliance. The city follows the guidelines under the Campaign Finance Act, which allows the non-disclosed funding.
That doesn’t make the situation palatable for those that opposed industrial zoning along the Colorado River.
Harry Griff, the registered agent for Concerned Citizens for the Riverfront, also was contacted by the City Clerk’s Office and instructed to disclose donations and contributions. They did, raising and spending $638 on campaign materials.
“When we were asked by the city to file a report, we had nothing to hide and cooperated with full transparency,” Griff said. “I don’t know why the political arm that was started by the chamber would not cooperate.”
Griff said the large difference in spending between the two campaigns became a sort of running joke among those against industrial zoning.
“They had billboards. They were running newspaper ads. They had way more financing than we had,” Griff said. “They had represented that they had a $250,000 nest egg for the campaign in several different venues. I don’t know if they were blowing smoke or how much they had in their disposal.”