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Chamber and Mayor raise funds to fight firefighters’ collective bargaining initiative 

Voice of Reason

An Indy reader shared a fundraising letter he had received, saying that it needed to see “a little light of day.” It had come from Citizens Against Public Employee Unions, an issue committee “formed by Mayor John Suthers, the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, and other community business leaders,” to help defeat Issue 1 in the April municipal election — an initiative that would give Springs firefighters the right to collective bargaining (though not the right to strike).
(Find the letter in full below.)

We have two problems with this letter. First, the committee that sent it is called Citizens Against Public Employee Unions, though it wasn’t formed by regular folks but by the Chamber & EDC, who registered it with the City Clerk and whose members are business owners ... generally wealthy ... generally conservative ... mostly white. So far as we can tell, the committee’s only connection to us everyday “citizens” is the taxpayer dollars we give the Chamber every year to support their operations — at least $920,000 from 2016 through 2019.

An organization that’s propped up by local tax dollars shouldn’t work to further its political agenda — “union,” after all, is a word deeply reviled by Chambers of Commerce nationwide — by wading into a local election over collective bargaining rights. And it shouldn’t use its clout to fight this initiative after 29,000-plus registered voters signed petitions to put the issue on the ballot.
The Chamber has formed issue committees before — their Invest in COS supported stormwater fees (2A), an issue the Indy also supported — but their efforts to influence that election outcome were as wrong then as they are now. If they plan to continue interfering in city elections, they need to find ways to replace the taxpayers’ portion of their operating funds.

The second problem with the Chamber’s fundraising letter: It bears Mayor John Suthers’ signature, and asks potential donors to “help us financially in the effort to defeat Issue 1 by sending a check to Citizens Against Public Employee Unions.” It also reminds recipients that “individuals and business entities can make contributions in any amount” — because the Charter and City Code carry no limits on how much money a person, corporation or political party can donate to an issue committee.

The mayor took some heat during the run-up to the stormwater vote for pro-2A comments he made at his State of the City address on Sept. 22, 2017. There were some who claimed then that Suthers’ actions put him in a gray area in campaign finance law. And whether his signature on the Chamber’s current fundraising plea takes him back to that gray area ... or beyond ... there are few who would argue that the optics here are anything but awful.

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