GarCo election mailing skirts disclosure rules
A recent mailing paints a dark picture of Democratic Garfield County commissioner candidate Sonja Linman.
Its origins apparently will remain in the shadows as well, based on current state election regulations.
The Northwest Colorado Alliance, the group behind the mailing, isn’t required to file campaign donor and spending reports for the type of activity it has been involved in, said Charlie Smith, a law clerk for the firm of John Zakhem, a Denver attorney and Republican Party activist. Smith and Zakhem were involved in filing incorporation papers on behalf of the nonprofit organization in July, but Smith said Wednesday he can’t comment on their clients or their activities.
Linman is running against Republican incumbent John Martin. The mailing, with a black background, red-ink headlines and a grainy photo of Linman, opposes what it says is her plan to raise property taxes for more government services as a way to create jobs. Linman said the mailing is inaccurate.
“It’s a messy, sloppy job and it’s discouraging for the process of democracy,” she said.
She said such “smear campaigns” can make people less willing to run for office, and local races should be decided at a local level, rather than by independent, outside spending. Past Garfield commissioner races also have attracted such spending, including by oil and gas and environmental interests.
The Linman mailing gives a Grand Junction address for the alliance. Its website says it’s registered as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit civic league or social welfare organization, and it researches and advocates for conservative policy positions.
It also has sent out mailings in support of actions of Martin and fellow Republican commissioners Mike Samson and Tom Jankovsky. Democrat Aleks Briedis is running against Samson this fall.
Colorado Ethics Watch is appealing a court ruling upholding a Secretary of State’s Office rule that exempts 501(c)(4) groups from finance disclosure requirements for election-oriented ads if the ads urge the public to take a position and contact a candidate. The Linman ad does this, but gives an incorrect number for her.
“What this regulation does is it severely limits disclosure,” said Peg Perl, staff counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch.
Rich Coolidge, spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, said the rule simply attempts to balance disclosure requirements and free-speech rights, in accordance with several court rulings.
Linman said the ad’s criticism of her may have stemmed from her support for a recent tax increase in the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District. She said she supports children and families, and the tax cost less than what parents are paying for child care in the neighboring Garfield Re-2 School District after it adopted a four-day week following a tax measure defeat.
Martin said he hasn’t seen the mailer and doesn’t support negative campaigning.
“It’s some people’s approach to politics. It is not mine,” he said.