Thornton residents begin collecting signatures for campaign finance reform

Luke Zarzecki
lzarzecki@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/2/22

A group of Thornton residents have submitted a campaign ballot initiative to the city declaring they will begin the process of collecting signatures to put campaign finance reform on an upcoming …

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Thornton residents begin collecting signatures for campaign finance reform

Posted

A group of Thornton residents submitted a campaign ballot initiative to the city June 2, declaring they will begin the process of collecting signatures to put campaign finance reform on an upcoming election ballot. 

Residents have 21 days to collect 8,565 signatures, representing 10% of eligible voters at the 2021 municipal election, according to Todd Barnes, a spokesperson for the city. 

If the group does collect the required signatures, then the city will put the initiative on the ballot after 60 days of the submitted signees but before 150 days. Barnes said a special election would cost about $200,000. The city would prefer to include it in the November 2022 election.

The sponsors of the petition are Ward 2 resident Roberta Ayala and Ward 1 resident Justin Martinez. They are backed by a group of about 200 residents, Ayala said. She said the group's membership increased 300% after Marvin announced at a March 8 City Council planning session meeting that 50 residents are organizing around the issue.

Collecting at city events

Ayala said the decision to start the countdown on June 4 was strategic — it’s the weekend of Thorntonfest. 

“They say they expect about 30,000 people there,” she said. 

The group also plans to collect signatures at other city events in June, including multiple Movies in the Park, at the Active Adult Center on June 6, the Mayor’s Ice Cream Social at Harley Brown Amphitheater on June 9 and Wright Farms Anythink Library on June 11 and 22.  

To inform the community, they had in-person meetings and Zoom meetings leading up to the start of the 21 days. 

Ayala said two of the main reasons she and others are looking for reform are because of special interest groups funding elections and councilors not being receptive to voiced concerns. 

“When we go to city council meetings or bring up concerns as residents of Thornton, they're not listening very well. But when things come about that have been brought to the city council from special interests, like corporations, those things are easily handled by our city council,” she said. 

She points to issues surrounding diversity and inclusion, specifically surrounding Pride events. 

“Northglenn has done some great things, like having pride festivals, that bring the community together,” she said. “I've brought that up in different capacities, my role as a resident or my role as a member of the arts and humanities board, and often when I bring those things up they just are not prioritized.” 

Not enough council support

So far, City Councilors Karen Bigelow, Kathy Henson and Julia Marvin have shown support for reform in general.  Marvin broached the topic at the council's meeting on May 24, but only Henson and Marvin spoke in favor of the current initiative.

“Thornton is like the Wild West when it comes to campaign finance, there are no limits to what someone can donate to a candidate that’s running for city council, the first time a candidate reports out isn’t until after voters have received their ballots,” Marvin said during the May 24 city council meeting. 

“I think it’s interesting how we can have one woman ask for goats in her backyard and we have a pilot program, but when over 100 residents sign a letter for something like this, it’s either dead silence or met with refusals,” she said. “The people that don’t support campaign finance reform are usually the ones who have something to lose.” 

Marvin also criticized the process residents must go through to begin a ballot initiative. 

Mayor Pro Tem Sandgren said a reason she doesn’t support the proposed reform is that it would make campaigns publicly funded by the government. She also criticized how the group is collecting donations. 

“The committee itself is taking donations that all go directly to the Democrat party,” she said. 

She said the group is using ActBlue to collect donations.  City Councilor Kathy Henson pushed back.

“The issue committee is not giving money to candidates,” she said. “They are using a fundraising platform to cover some expenses in order to move the issue forward,” she said. 

According to ActBlue’s website, the software is used by Democratic candidates and groups, but all the donations go to the fundraiser, besides a processing fee that goes to ActBlue. 

“We want as many groups as possible to be able to create strong grassroots fundraising programs. Our platform is available to Democratic candidates and committees, progressive organizations, and nonprofits that share our values for no cost besides a 3.95% processing fee on donations,” the website says. 

City Councilors Eric Garcia, Adam Matkowsky, Tony Unrein, David Acunto, Karen Bigelow and Mayor Kulmann were silent on the topic at the May 24 meeting. 

What’s on the initiative 

The proposed initiative would not make campaigns funded by the government, according to the petition.

“The proposed regulations would include registration requirements, contribution limitations, reporting requirements, communication disclaimer requirements, recordkeeping and website posting requirements for the City Clerk, enforcement provisions and penalties, filing requirements, limitations on contributions by the City, record keeping and inspection requirements for media outlets that are subject to 47 U.S.C. 315(e), immunity for media outlets and candidate and candidate committee volunteers for certain acts and omissions, requirements related to rates and charges for political advertisements, and prohibitions related to withdrawals of candidacy,” the petition says. 

Put simply, Marvin said the ordinance would limit contributions to $400 for council candidates and $800 for mayoral candidates, create more frequent reporting deadlines and more disclosures on campaign materials, would ban corporate, special interest and union money and make it easier to understand rules that govern making donations. 

“To me, that's part of the other bigger issue is we as council members have residents coming to us and you won't even look into an issue or talk with them about it,” Marvin said in an interview. 

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