AURORA — The idea that there really is never a nonpartisan elected office appears to be truer than ever as county chapters of the Colorado Democrats are now officially donating to municipal candidates, who are supposed to remain neutral.
At least two chapters, the Arapahoe County Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Weld County have cut checks to candidates in local city council races, causing some to question whether those candidates can really claim to be running for the best interest of all in their communities.
Centennial District 4 Candidate Anna Burr reported receiving $400 from her local party while Greeley City Council Candidates Tommy Butler, who is running for Ward 1, and Michael Whitcomb, who is running for Ward IV both received $500 from their local chapter.
Weld Democrats Chairman Jerad Sutton did not return request for comment from Complete Colorado, but Democratic Party of Arapahoe Chairwoman Kristin Mallory said the Arapahoe chapter donates to candidates “who are registered as Democrats, because we see local elections as an opportunity to build a bench of future leaders for State and even National office,” she said through email. “Holding local office gives people experience working across the aisle, approaching community problems, and passing ordinances that help their community — which makes them stronger future candidates for higher office.”
Former Secretary of State and current Colorado Springs City Councilman Wayne Williams disagrees. Williams, a registered Republican, said local races can and should be nonpartisan, and candidates should refuse money from local parties.
“When I attended the meetings to run for city council in Colorado Springs, they were always clear and emphasized that city council was nonpartisan,” Williams said. “As a result, my website didn’t even mention my party because I wanted to follow not just the letter but also the spirit of the law.”
Having worked in elections for eight years preceding his new role on the council, Williams is very familiar with partisan politics. However, he said he fully believes local municipal seats shouldn’t govern via partisan politics.
“When you are dealing with local issues, you should be nonpartisan,” Williams said, adding both the Democrat and Republican candidates for the 5th Congressional District, Irv Halter and Doug Lamborn, respectively signed his petition to run. “And I was endorsed by Democrat state Rep. Marc Snyder. When you look at things like municipal races, you’re not talking about partisan issues as a general rule. It’s about how do we provide good parks? How do we make sure our roads are plowed? For basic government issues, people don’t want a partisan slant, they just want them done well.”
Mallory sees it differently.
“A city council position makes decisions that impact our communities – including, but not limited to, oil and gas regulations, affordable and attainable housing, and social welfare programs,” she said. “How city council people approach those issues is going to be based on their values — and as a Party, we want to have people elected that share our values and understand the Democratic Party platform.”
Mallory said the party is only a small portion of the overall donations, and voters should look at the entire finance picture to see who is supporting that candidate.
“Campaigns have to fund the majority of their expenditures by asking their friends, family, and community to donate,” she said. “The entire picture of someone’s candidacy and their values can be seen by looking at who else gives to a campaign.”
Williams agreed in part, saying candidates can accept money from groups that align with party principals, but shouldn’t take it from the party itself.
“When you are running for a nonpartisan seat, to accept from partisan organizations has arguably an appearance of impropriety, particularly when it’s the actual party, not just an interest group. When you are saying I’m nonpartisan, but you are taking money from a partisan group, it can cause people to question if you are really running in a nonpartisan race.”