It’s hard not to notice that an all-out war is being waged between those against the city’s proposed hydropower plant and its proponents, especially now that the election is a month away.
A new anti-hydro group has cropped up and placed itself right in the middle of the battlefield, sending at least three glossy mailers to Aspen voters in an attempt to discredit the project with various claims.
Debating the merits of the Castle Creek Energy Center is a good thing. There are pro and con arguments on either side, and we welcome anyone to bring their issues to the forefront.
But we do have a problem with a group not disclosing who is pulling its strings and where it’s getting its funding. That’s the case with Aspen Citizens Committee, the entity that has produced and sent out the mailers, and incorporated as a nonprofit with the state of Colorado in July.
The City Attorney’s office sent a letter to the group’s Aspen P.O. box, requesting that it register as an issue committee, which state election law requires within 10 days of any group raising or spending more than $200 on ballot issues or candidates.
An attorney representing the group replied in writing on Monday to the city, arguing that Aspen Citizens Committee has no legal obligation to register as an issue committee and comply with campaign finance laws.
The letter from Denver attorney Jason R. Dunn states that since the vote on the hydro plant is “advisory,” and lacks the legal teeth to change any laws or bind future city councils, “there is no ‘issue’ upon which [Aspen Citizens Committee] could advocate for or against.”
Dunn’s letter says Aspen Citizens Committee is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit “social welfare organization,” and was not formed for the purpose of advocating for or against the advisory question, and it does not have a major purpose of doing so.
Really? Then why does its first mailer, delivered last month, have a headline that reads “Before you vote, learn the truth”? Aspen voters are a savvy bunch. They know the difference between social welfare and shameless politicking. They will see through the “major purpose” of a committee that was previously unknown until several weeks before the election, and all of the sudden is inundating mailboxes with ads against the city project.
This committee’s second mailer attempts to mislead voters by suggesting that the hydro plant will create “6 miles of ugly dry creek bed” as a result of diversions in Maroon Creek. It’s a ridiculous claim, since the state requires a minimum streamflow in that creek.
There is a reason campaign finance laws exist — so the voting public can fully digest and break down information and claims, and know who is behind them, what their motivations might be and what they gain or lose by making them.
Demanding full disclosure, we do not believe, is “inside baseball” or “irrelevant,” as some opponents of the project have stated. We believe that transparency in elections is extremely relevant, especially when information disseminated isn’t truthful or in context.
We agree the issues surrounding the hydro plant proposal are important, but the public deserves a campaign where they are debated thoroughly and honestly.
To brush off questions about fundraising transparency as irrelevant makes us wonder what exactly there is to hide. What is the problem with the public knowing who is funding the effort?
Clearly there already is a lot of money behind the Aspen Citizens Committee. The fact that it has hired Dunn — the former deputy attorney general and assistant solicitor general for the state of Colorado — suggests that this local group is throwing down some serious cash for its campaign.
We respectfully request that the people behind Aspen Citizens Committee stand up and identify themselves and their donors in the name of full disclosure. Until that happens, we urge voters to take the spin with a grain of salt.