Who’s funding Eagle River Station foes?
Ryan Summerlin December 16, 2009
EAGLE, Colorado – They’re dedicated to stopping Eagle River Station, and they’ve received $35,000 to fund spreading their message.
The question on some people’s minds: Exactly who is funding the “Smart Growth – No Urban Sprawl – Vote No on Eagle River Station” campaign?
A campaign finance report the group submitted to the town of Eagle this week lists “Citizens for the Future of Eagle” as the campaign’s sole contributor.
But some residents say that explanation is too vague. Who is ponying up the money for Citizens of the Future of Eagle, they ask?
David Flaherty, a consultant for the Smart Growth campaign, has declined to disclose who is funding Citizens for the Future of Eagle, citing respect for the donors’ privacy.
The group is staying mum on who is financing it, but can they do that under the law?
Eagle Town Attorney Ed Sands said Smart Growth’s finance report raises questions.
“It would appear this is certainly a loophole,” he said. “I think it really is contrary to the intent of the laws when it comes to campaign disclosure. Whether it is unlawful or not is probably yet to be seen.”
Sands said a separate court case currently pending before the Colorado Court of Appeals could add insight into the situation.
Attorneys who prepared Smart Growth’s finance report say laws requiring groups to file a list of contributors don’t apply to Citizens for the Future of Eagle.
“It is not regulated by campaign finance (laws) because its purpose is not to support or oppose a ballot initiative,” said Mario Nicolais, an attorney for Hackstaff Gessler in Denver. “That’s not what it is organized for.”
Citizens for the Future of Eagle dates back to 2007 – long before the town decided to put the Eagle River Station matter on the ballot, Nicolais said. Unlike Smart Growth, it is not classified as an “issue committee.” Issue committees are required to disclose their contributions and expenses, said Rich Coolidge, a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State.
Citizens for the Future of Eagle is an “unincorporated nonprofit association,” and therefore is not required to file with the secretary of state’s office or provide contribution or expense reports, Nicolais said.
But the definition of an issue committee has been challenged in court before, and gray areas could exist. Sands said several things would factor into whether Citizens for the Future of Eagle is indeed not an issue committee.
“It’s my understanding of the law that one cannot take simply the name of a defunct organization and resurrect it for the purpose of hiding actual contributors,” Sands said. “In that case, it would in fact be an issues committee that must be regulated and disclose contributors. If it was a legitimate organization that was formed for other purposes, and then simply decides to contribute to this campaign among its many purposes, then it would not have to file a disclosure.”
Jan Rosenthal Townsend, a founding member of Citizens for the Future of Eagle, has previously said that group formed seven years ago to fight a different proposal for the shopping center land, called Red Mountain Ranch. The group went dormant for a while, and revived about three years ago when developers proposed Eagle River Station, she said before.
A separate campaigning arm of the group, Smart Growth, formed shortly after Eagle officials decided to put the Eagle River Station question to a Jan. 5 citizens’ referendum, Rosenthal Townsend said earlier.
The Colorado Constitution defines an issue committee as a group of two or more people “That has a major purpose of supporting or opposing any ballot issue or ballot question” or “That has accepted or made contributions or expenditures in excess of $200 to support or oppose any ballot issue or ballot question,” Coolidge said in an e-mail.
Sands said a pending court case could lend a perspective on what qualifies as an issue committee. That case, Michael Cerbo vs. Protect Colorado Jobs, Inc., probed whether a group that contributed money to an issue committee was itself an issue committee, and had to disclose its campaign contributions.
The issue committee had formed to advocate for a statewide ballot question on labor union dues. A judge found there was not enough evidence to prove that the group, Protect Colorado Jobs, was an issue committee. Cerbo appealed the decision in March, but no verdict has yet been made.
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.