Political committees that raise money to support or oppose ballot issues in the city of Durango will soon be required to report where they got all contributions of more than $20.
Durango City Council unanimously approved the change to local campaign finance laws earlier this week. Before the measure was enacted, issue committees did not have to report where contributions came from and where expenditures went unless they were $5,000 or more.
Any contributions and expenditures now must be reported to the City Clerk, and if a donation is $20 or more, the committee must disclose where that money came from.
The city’s new rules were adopted after leaders became aware of their authority to do so late last year, said City Attorney Dirk Nelson. In the most recent election, a small issue committee called Citizens for Durango’s Future rallied against a ballot measure to increase property and sales taxes to pay for streets, sidewalks, law enforcement and city buildings. That ballot question failed by more than 20 percent.
“It came as a surprise to all of us. I think it was just a matter of becoming aware of a loophole and taking advantage of that locally,” Nelson said of the authority to supersede campaign finance rules.
Mayor Sweetie Marbury said City Council was not aware of its authority to supersede state campaign finance rules for small issue committees when the law was enacted about three years ago by Colorado legislators. The new rules will provide transparency in elections, Marbury said, something she said is respectful to voters.
“In America, we stand up and we support ideas or issues or candidates, so I think the city of Durango respects that, and we want everyone to be transparent, honest and open,” she said.
The Colorado Secretary of State was sued a couple of times over its rules requiring small issue committees to report all contributions and expenditures of more than $200, said Stephen Bouey, campaign finance manger with Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. Federal judges ruled against the state both times, agreeing with plaintiffs that the state’s reporting rules were onerous for small issue committees, he said.
Municipalities have had the authority to supersede state campaign finance rules because of a home-rule exemption, Bouey said.
In 2018, 101 of 272 municipalities in Colorado had home-rule exemptions, said Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League.
“The basic premise behind home rule is this: The citizens have the right to control their own density for Durango rather than the state Legislature,” Mamet said. “And in the case of this matter, campaign finance, it has been ascertained in the courts and in law that a municipality like Durango can do just that.”