The majority of Aspen City Council declined to pass a law on Monday that would require political candidates and issue committees to disclose the identity of donors who give less than $20.
Current rules require that candidates keep track of under-$20 donations, but they do not have to list the donors’ identities on campaign finance disclosure forms, where all donations and spending of $20 or more are catalogued.
A campaign two years ago, led by local blogger Elizabeth Milias, targeted Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland — the effort was called “Sick of Mick” — and encouraged people to donate $19.99. Milias used the funds she collected, including about $2,000 in undisclosed contributions, to purchase yard signs and bumper stickers.
“There is evidence that efforts to collect less than $20 has led to a lack of civility,” City Attorney Jim True said at Monday’s meeting.
Councilman Torre, who along with council members Steve Skadron, Adam Frisch and Derek Johnson, is running for mayor in the May 7 election, argued for leaving room in the city’s election rules for secret political giving. He said a handful of people have contributed less than $20 to his campaign intentionally, because they feared “retribution from the company they work for” if they publicly supported his campaign for mayor, he said.
Torre suggested that candidates be able to collect up to $200 in under-$20 chunks without disclosing the donors, and then report the names after that.
“We can safeguard against the abuse that comes from thousands of dollars” while allowing some low-level giving from people who fear being publicly identified, he said.
Frisch said he liked Torre’s idea, but suggested that the limit be higher, perhaps as high as $2,000. Torre said he did not support the limit being that high.
Frisch also said there has only been one instance when someone abused the under-$20 nondisclosure policy, and it “obviously didn’t work very well,” since Ireland won the mayoral election in 2009.
Ireland took issue with that statement, and said the Sick of Mick efforts were harmful to him, his family and friends.
Ireland has been the biggest champion of requiring all donors’ names to be disclosed, saying it cuts down on negative campaigning.
“When people don’t have to stand behind who they gave money to, they feel free to do political graffiti,” he said. “I have yet to see people write nasty graffiti and then put their name on it.”
Ireland also said that there has never been any evidence of someone feeling a negative consequence from giving money to a local political cause.
Johnson and Skadron, while expressing support for doing something about the under-$20 disclosure loophole, said they would prefer to wait until after the election.
Council voted on Torre’s suggestion to cap non-disclosed donations of under $20 at $200, but the policy failed 3-2, with Torre and Ireland in favor. The council then tabled the issue until the June 10 meeting, which will be the last one before the new council is seated after the election.