Longmont City Council Backs Campaign Finance Code Changes

August 29, 2018
Longmont City Council Backs Campaign Finance Code Changes

Sarah Levison trying to flag down passing pedestrians to sign a petition to repeal a tax on food in Longmont in July.

Longmont’s City Council has endorsed several proposed revisions to the city Fair Campaign Practices Act’s contribution and spending reporting requirements.

One of the changes, recommended by City Clerk Valeria Skitt after the council called on her to review the current campaign reporting code, would remove the current requirement that candidates for mayor or council seats file electioneering reports — documents they now must file whenever they incur a cumulative expense of $250 or more for campaign-related materials such as flyers, stickers, handouts, banners, mailings and advertising.

That requirement resulted in $16,000 in total fines imposed on Sarah Levison for four violations in missing deadlines for filing electioneering reports during her unsuccessful 2017 mayoral campaign.

Another change in the current code, suggested Tuesday night by Mayor Brian Bagley, would cap a candidate’s fine for a violation of campaign-finance reporting requirement at $999.

The Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act now sets a $400 daily fine for failure to file a required report, for up to 10 days — a possible total $4,000 fine for failing to do so in that 10-day period.

The current code now sets a $100 daily fine, for failing to disclose a contribution or expenditure on one of the required reports — a possible total $1,000 for failing to correct that violation in 10 days’ time.

Council members also agreed that no fine should be ordered until after the city clerk’s office has formally notified a candidate about an alleged campaign finance violation and the candidate fails to act within seven working days to provide evidence that there was no violation — or to correct the violation, if there was one, with a new or corrected report.

“There needs to be an opportunity to cure” a problem in a contributions and spending report, said Councilwoman Polly Christensen.

Christensen also called for a revision that would impose the same campaign contribution limits on what businesses can donate to a candidate’s campaign as the limit on contributions to that campaign by a “natural person.”

Longmont’s code now has a $240 limit on a person’s contributions to a candidate’s campaign but a $610 limit on contributions by donors “other than a natural person.”

Allowing higher donations by corporations than by a natural person “is a huge problem,” Christensen said.

Her motion to have pending revisions to the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act include the same limit on non-human donors as the code applies to human contributors passed on a 6-1 vote, with Councilwoman Bonnie Finley dissenting.

Councilwoman Joan Peck got council support for a requirement that a candidate file his or her first campaign finance report soon after declaring his or her candidacy.

Peck said an increasing number candidates have been accepting donations and incurring expenses on their campaigns months ahead of the current municipal code’s requirements, which set the due date for the first pre-election report at the 21st day before the election.

As amended by Councilwoman Marcia Martin, Peck’s proposal would require a candidate to file his or her report on the first day of the month following a declaration of candidacy, and on the first of each month after that, until the pre-election reporting requirements kick in that apply to all candidates, regardless of when they enter the contest.

That idea got council approval on a 4-3 vote with Bagley, Finley and Councilman Tim Waters dissenting.

Skitt’s own recommendations included one that would require an additional pre-election report that would have to be filled 30 days before the election, which she said would be during th week ballots are mailed to Longmont voter.

Council members endorsed Skitt’s 30-day-before-the-election additional-report suggestion.

Bagley warned that based on his own past experiences in election contests as well as his observations of campaign finance practices in various municipal elections, the Longmont code’s reporting revisions under consideration would not eliminate the problem of donors and candidates who “want to be sneaky and hide stuff.”

“At the end of the day,” Bagley said, candidates and donors who are “honest” will follow the city’s reporting requirements and those who are “sneaky” will not.

“It all comes down to honesty,” he said.

The Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act revisions that got informal council support on Tuesday will now be incorporated into an ordinance amending the act. That ordinance will then be scheduled for formal council votes at future meetings.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc

Update hourly