Campaigning blind 

During election season, knowledgeable candidates routinely check the financial disclosures of their opponents, looking for compromising contributions.

In the two primaries for the El Paso County Board of Commissioners, there's not much to see.

Sallie Clark and Dennis Hisey, District 3 and 4 commissioners, respectively, are both facing challenges from other Republicans. But they haven't had to file campaign finance disclosures since November. Their next disclosures are due June 5 — when their opponents will file for the first time, and one day after ballots get mailed to voters.

The deadlines go back decades, says Alissa Vander Veen, chief deputy with El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's office. As she notes, they worked fine when elections were held at the polls on primary day, which this year is June 26.

"This is the first time El Paso County is conducting an all-mail ballot election," she says. "2010 was the first time that anybody was allowed to conduct an all-mail ballot election."

Candidates for the state Legislature have already filed four reports with the Secretary of State's office, and a number of candidates have made issues of opponents' contributors. For instance, in state Senate District 10, Owen Hill denounced donations from "lobbyists, special interests, and donors to liberal Democrat causes" received by his Republican primary opponent, Rep. Larry Liston.

In the race for Colorado's 5th District in the U.S. Congress, Republican challenger Robert Blaha has chastised Rep. Doug Lamborn's past use of earmarks to "funnel" money to campaign supporters, while Lamborn has blasted back that Blaha's heavy investment in his own campaign means that he's trying to buy a congressional seat.

Blaha filed once, in March; the next filing in that race is due July 15.

Ashlee Springer, with the Blaha campaign, notes that due to the Federal Election Commission's filing deadlines, her candidate is in a similar position to the county challengers. "When you are running in a primary," she says, "it doesn't leave you too much time to do anything with [the information]."

Clark's challenger, Karen Magistrelli, says she hadn't even thought of checking into her opponent's November filing. But she does know that developer James Johnson of GE Johnson donated $2,000 to Clark because, she says, it was first reported in the Indy back in January.

"That raises flags in my mind," she says, "that somebody who has repeatedly been contracted by the county is her biggest donor."

Among other jobs, GE Johnson was recently chosen for a $500,000-plus renovation of the county's Citizens Service Center.

Hisey's challenger, Auddie Cox, also looked at his opponent's November filing, but says it didn't make much of a difference. And, he says, "We're just talking about a county commissioner race; it's not like we're talking about someone running for Senate or something."

Cost is the main factor for switching to the all-mail ballot, Vander Veen says, but also, the public has certainly shown a preference for the mail-in ballot. "In 2010, we had something like 25,000 people vote at the polling places; the majority of the voters for that election cast their ballot by mail."

She says that, roughly, 149,000 out of the 302,000 voters in the county have opted for the permanent mail-in ballot.

With mail elections looking like the wave of the future, it would make sense to revisit the deadlines. Vander Veen says "there has been some discussion about taking all of those filing calendars and marrying them all together, but that's going to take some change in legislation."



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