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Campaign money builds for tax proposals

About $263,000 has been raised by campaign committees supporting school district tax increase proposals around the state.

Some $100,200 of that total has been gathered by Douglas County Citizens for Education Reform, which supports district tax proposals 3A and 3B. The Dougco schools have the largest tax proposal package this year, a $200 million bond issue for facilities, technology and other spending and $20 million of increased spending authority for operations, including a pay-for-performance program.

Not including Douglas County, committees formed for local tax elections have raised just over $163,000 in campaigns involving 22 districts. Reported spending by those committees totals just under $75,000.

Education News Colorado reviewed contribution and spending reports filed with the secretary of state by an Oct. 11 deadline. The next filing deadline is Oct. 28.

Douglas County Citizens did not file a report with the secretary of state. A spreadsheet listing contributions and spending through Oct. 19 was provided to EdNews by Sean McGraw, listed as the committee’s registered agent in the secretary of state’s office online records. McGraw, who described himself as volunteer for the campaign, also is executive director of the Douglas County Educational Foundation, a 501(3)(c) organization that raises private funds for the district.

The secretary of state’s office has a complicated set of deadlines for financial reporting by committees, depending on whether they’re involved in a current election and the type of election – state, county, municipal.

McGraw noted that the office’s website lists Nov. 1 as the next reporting deadline for Douglas County Citizens. However, the office last December sent a letter to committees notifying them that a committee that “intends to support or oppose ballot measures that will be on a ballot in any 2011 election … must file on the ‘frequent’ reporting schedule.”

The frequent schedule this year requires reporting on Oct. 11, Oct. 28 and Dec. 1.

McGraw said he didn’t recall the December letter.

Dougco donations and spending

Major contributions to Douglas County Citizens include $20,000 from the Douglas County Educational Foundation, $20,000 from CCT Wireless, $10,000 from RBC Capital Markets, $5,000 each from ISC Corp., Brilliant Outdoor Media and Sterling Ranch, a real estate developer. The committee’s total also includes $20,000 in funds leftover from a previous campaign.

Spending listed on the spreadsheet includes $10,041 to EIS Solutions for campaign consulting, $6,929 to FLS Connect for phone calls and $71,640 to a company named Wizbang for mailings.

An opposition committee, Citizens for Sustainable Education, registered with the secretary of state’s office on Oct. 11 and doesn’t have to file a report until Oct. 28.

Elsewhere in the state

Outside of Douglas County, nearly $145,000 of the $163,000 raised has been contributed in just eight districts, Alamosa, Brighton, Cheyenne Mountain, Englewood, Garfield RE-2, Mesa, Roaring Fork and Thompson. At the other end of the spectrum, committees in four districts reported no contributions as of Oct. 11.

The Colorado Education Association has contributed $11,000 in support of nine district tax proposals, and CEA local affiliates have contributed a total of $7,250 in three districts.

Other giving in the district elections follows the traditional patterns of contributions from banks, construction companies, local businesses and wealthy individuals, along with numerous small individual donations.

Much of the reported spending is on basic forms of advertising such as direct mail.

Besides the committee opposing the district tax measures in Douglas County, just one other opposition committee has registered. Teachers and Taxpayers First in Pagosa Springs reported no contributions.

Snapshots of key districts

Brighton: The group Parents for 27J Students has raised $13,157 and spent $4,467. Notable contributions include $2,000 from the Brighton Chamber of Commerce, $2,000 from the Brighton Education Association and $1,500 from CEA. Info on district proposal

Cheyenne Mountain: Friends of Cheyenne Mountain Schools has raised $25,895 and spent $9,217. The CEA contributed $750, and there were several large individual contributions. Proposal info

Englewood: Citizens for Englewood Schools has raised $20,266 and spent $16,208. Major contributors include Saunders Construction, $7,500; the Gothic Theater, $2,995; CEA, $1,500, and MOA Architecture, $1,000. Proposal info

Mesa 51: Friends of School District 51 has raised $36,958 and spent $26,457. Significant contributions include $15,000 from John Hendricks, a founder of the Discovery Channel and owner of a resort in Mesa County; $5,000 from Alpine Bank; $2,500 from FCI Constructors of Grand Junction; $2,000 from Shaw Construction, and $1,000 from Colorado West Healthcare System. The Mesa Valley Education Association Small Donor Committee gave $5,000, and the CEA donated $1,500. Proposal info

Roaring Fork: A committee named Children First reported contributions of $20,587 and spending of $845. Major gives included the Roaring Fork Public Education Foundation, $4,000; Alpine Bank, $2,000, and the Aspen Skiing Co., $2,000. The CEA gave $750. Proposal info

Elsewhere, Alamosans for Great Schools has raised $9,491, including $1,000 from the Alamosa Education Foundation and significant local business contributions. The Community Coalition for Local Schools in the Thompson district has raised $8,223, including $1,500 from CEA. Friends of Garfield RE-2 has raised $10,632 through a transfer from a prior campaign committee.

The other union contributions were $2,000 from CEA to Building D70 Communities in Pueblo, which has raised only $2,500 total, and $750 to the Committee to Keep Sheridan Schools No. 1 ,which has raised only $755. CEA also gave $750 to the Citizens for Eagle County Schools, and the Eagle County Education Association gave $250.

Not all campaign spending reported

Statewide, 35 districts are seeking voter approval for property tax increases for bond issues or operating expenses. Four of those districts are seeking both. Get details in the Election Center.

The Oct. 11 reports may not reflect total spending on local school tax elections. Under campaign finance rules, committees that received contributions or made expenditures of less than $5,000 don’t have to register or file reports.

For example, the Eagle County Republican Party is campaigning against Eagle schools proposed measure 3B but hasn’t registered because it’s spending under $5,000, according to a recent article in the Vail Daily. Supporters of 3B are crying foul.

Other committees may have failed to register even if they were supposed to do so. And campaign committees may not have been formed in some districts.

The $5,000 limit is facing a court challenge by two advocacy groups, Colorado Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause. You can read their legal filing here and the secretary of state’s answer here.

Douglas County committee didn’t meet 2010 deadlines

Douglas County Citizens for Education Reform registered with the secretary of state’s office in 2008 in support of a prior tax increase proposal.

The committee’s last report in 2010 listed a balance of $20,921.41.

On Nov. 3, 2010, the department fined the committee $100 for late reporting.

Because the initial fine wasn’t paid, fines rose to $1,050 by Nov. 22, 2010, $3,000 by Dec. 31 and $10,100 by May 22, 2011.

The committee filed a request for a waiver in June, and the amount was reduced to $50 by the department on Aug. 5, 2011.

The department’s letter to the committee read, “The penalty will be reduced to $50 because this was the committee’s first delinquent report. The penalty was not waived in full because the delinquency was not the result of a situation that made timely filing an impracticability.” The committee paid the $50 on Aug. 30.

Asked why the fine was reduced, department communications director Rich Coolidge referenced the department’s Rules Concerning Campaign and Political Finance, which state: “First delinquency in 24 months: The penalty will be reduced to $50.”

On the question of possible penalties for committees that should be filing report on the “frequent” schedule, the department’s Dec.3, 2010, letter to committees read: “Failure to begin filing on a frequent schedule if your committee is active, failure to change your stated purpose within five days of any change, or failure to file reports on time may subject your committee to enforcement action, including legal complaints and/or penalties of $50 per day.”

Committee page on department website, including links to documents relating to the late filing