Four Garfield County mayors spoke out Tuesday against what they consider to be a gusher of outside money — some of it related to the energy industry — influencing races for county commissioner.

However, incumbent Commissioner John Martin and former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis defended involvement by industry advocates, saying they’re as entitled to have a say in the races as are environmental groups.

McInnis and Martin are both Republicans. McInnis, also a former lobbyist for EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), donated $10,000 from his political action committee to Denver-based Western Heritage, an independent 527 political organization that has spent $5,000 apiece for advertising on behalf of Martin and fellow Republican commissioner candidate Mike Samson.

Paul Rady, chairman and chief executive officer of Denver-based Antero Resources, a natural gas developer in the county, also has donated $20,000 to Western Heritage. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mayors Michael Hassig of Carbondale, Bruce Christensen of Glenwood Springs, Frank Breslin of New Castle and Keith Lambert of Rifle held a news conference Tuesday in Glenwood Springs to denounce the influence of the energy industry in the county commission campaign. Christensen is an independent, and the other three are Democrats.

The mayors said they share concerns raised by Democratic candidates Stephen Bershenyi and Steve Carter about what the two say is a lack of transparency by some outside groups that have paid for mailings regarding the commission candidates. The candidates say some of the entities appear to have failed to comply with state election laws regarding disclosure of their donors and activities.

“The people of Garfield County deserve to know who’s behind these mailings and what is their agenda,” Hassig said.

In a news release, Bershenyi’s campaign said the Colorado League of Taxpayers and Coalition for Energy and the Environment, both 527 groups set up by Scott Shires, and another group called Small Town Values have failed to follow state election laws. Neither Shires nor the Small Town Values group could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Small Town Values has spent $7,250 each on behalf of Samson and Martin. Martin is being challenged by Bershenyi, and Samson and Carter are vying for an open seat.

A Colorado League of Taxpayers mailing earlier this year labeled Carter a “Boulder liberal,” although Carter last lived there when going to law school in 1972.

Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Richard Coolidge said the normal course for anyone concerned about a possible illegality is to file a complaint with the office. Carter and Bershenyi said they’ve been busy with their campaigns and have filed no complaints.

In administrative hearings this year, one complaint that the Colorado League of Taxpayers failed to comply with election laws was dismissed, but in another case it was found to have failed to register as a political committee and to report an election communication in the form of a flyer. The group was fined $650.

Nonlocal, pro-environment organizations also have become involved in the Garfield commission campaign. WORC Colorado Rural Voters, a political action committee for the Western Organization of Resource Councils, has spent about $13,500 total in support of Carter and Bershenyi. The Colorado Conservation Voter Action Fund 527 group has spent $2,630 apiece on behalf of the two.

But the two candidates say they and the groups supporting them have been upfront about such campaign spending. Also, Christensen said there’s a difference when grass-roots groups interested in the public good become involved in a campaign, as opposed to an energy industry that appears regularly before the commission and seeks decisions that provide private benefit.

“I don’t think that anybody can say that an environmental advocacy group is going to personally potentially profit from their contribution,” he said.

The mayors are upset about the county’s agreement with Chevron regarding reconstruction of County Road 204, which reaches the company’s gas field from De Beque. The county agreed to support Chevron if it seeks a state severance tax credit against the $25 million it has committed for the project.

The mayors say that would mean fewer severance tax dollars going to meet needs in their communities.

Martin stood at the fringe of Tuesday’s news conference and called what he heard “disappointing.”

“Are they (energy industry advocates) any more citizens or less citizens than an environmental group that has negative campaigns?” he said.

Reached by telephone, McInnis said it sounds as if the mayors are saying it’s OK to fund one side of a campaign, but not the other.

“Why shouldn’t they (industry advocates) be allowed to participate in the election?” he said. “I mean, I’m baffled by this.”


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