Attacks ads roiling Avon race
AVON ” As the election season in Avon turned nasty, two postcards singled out Avon Town Councilman and candidate Brian Sipes.
Sent by the Citizens for Better Local Government, one postcard accused Sipes of spending taxpayer dollars recklessly. Another publicized Sipes’ support of a proposed early childhood tax on which Eagle County residents also will vote Nov. 7.
Instead of simply condemning the actions and hoping they’ll disappear, Sipes wrote a letter to District Attorney Mark Hurlbert requesting an investigation into the campaigning he deemed “false, slanderous, libelous or illegal.”
And it’s not just the postcards he finds disturbing, Sipes said. He added a fishy telephone survey, a sample ballot and offensive Internet cartoon to the letter as well.
“There’s a cloud over this election, and it’s concerning to me,” Sipes said, adding he thinks the phone poll and postcards are connected.
Some who received the call said they didn’t remember the exact name of the group conducting the survey, but thought it might have been Coloradans for Economic Justice. The group did not list the survey as part of its campaign expenses.
“This group has not registered, as is required by law, and is therefore operating illegally and this practice must be stopped,” Sipes said in an e-mail.
All the town council candidates ” Karri Willemssen, Dave Dantas, Rich Carroll, Pete Buckley, Chris Green and current Mayor Ron Wolfe ” immediately volunteered to sign the letter, and Sipes extended the invitation to current council members as well.
Hustling to send the complaint out, Wolfe drove the letter around the Vail Valley Friday collecting signatures.
Councilwoman Debbie Buckley said she wanted to add her name to the list but couldn’t be found when signatures were collected. Her name was added to the list with that caveat. Councilman Mac McDevitt was in California but e-mailed Sipes to express his support for the complaint.
Pete Buckley said he wanted to sign the letter as well, but did not return any of Sipes’ e-mails about the issue, leading Sipes to say he believes Pete Buckley no longer wants to be a part of the inquiry.
Sipes was right. Not only does Pete Buckley not want to be part of the inquiry, he disagrees with it.
In his own letter to Hurlbert, Pete Buckley wrote, “Regrettably, Brian Sipes … has requested intervention of your office without first getting his facts straight, nor doing his homework.
“When someone disagrees with Brian, his first instinct seems to be to pursue legal action,” Buckley continued in the letter. “This would seem to me to make the case that this town council is more interested in litigating than working together for the mutual benefit of all.”
The Vail Daily’s searches of political or issues committees with the IRS, the Colorado Secretary of State, the town of Avon and elsewhere turned up nothing, but taking a different route, Buckley discovered a nonprofit group called Citizens for Better Local Government and the group’s lawyer Ryan Call, who acknowledged information about the group is hard to find.
While the Vail Daily searched the Colorado Secretary of State’s online Election Center, Pete Buckley found the group listed as a nonprofit under the state’s Business Center.
“It’s a complicated way to track stuff down,” Call said.
Using a tax loophole, Citizens for Better Local Government doesn’t have to register along with the other political and issues committees at the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
“There’s a gap in the law, that’s true, but it’s certainly legitimate,” Call said.
Call said the loophole is permitted to groups that promote “voter education, but don’t advocate for or against one candidate or another.”
Wolfe, Green and Sipes may be offended by the postcards that came out, but they’re not outright recommending a vote.
“American politics has a huge tradition of welcoming anonymous speech,” Call said. “I think it’s important for democracy.”
Sipes could also be right about a connection between Coloradans for Economic Justice and Citizens for Better Local Government. Call represents both groups. He said the groups have some different members but wouldn’t confirm if any of the members were the same.
If something is factually wrong in the postcards, Hurlbert could prosecute. Town of Avon spokeswoman Jacquie Halburnt said one postcard stated Avon was sued over a land condemnation, but that never happened. Pete Buckley said nothing in that postcard was false.
“But you have to recognize one person’s false statement is someone else’s opinion,” Call said.
Call didn’t offer much hope if the issue is taken to court.
“It’s never been successfully prosecuted,” he said. “District attorneys are reluctant to wade into this. There’s such a high burden of proof. Most courts would err on the side of free speech.”
Hurlbert said campaign lies have never been successfully prosecuted because this is the first year it’s been in effect.
“It’s a new thing that the DAs are wresting with this year,” Hurlbert said. “But if there’s a violation of the law, we’re never reluctant to take it to court.”
Having just read Sipes’ letter and not yet having read Pete Buckley’s, Hurlbert said he’ll need to get more information before he decides if an investigation is needed.
Citizens for Better Local Government ” P.O. Box 8616, Avon, CO 81620.
– Printing for mailed postcards ” $743.71.
– Postage ” $1,326.
Coloradans for Economic Justice ” P.O. Box 8623, Avon, CO. 81620.
-Radio broadcast communications ” $3,773.90
Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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