Commissioner candidates clash over campaign finances
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski, the Republican incumbent, accused her Democratic challenger Beth Melton of accepting PAC money through an organization called ActBlue during an election forum Tuesday.
“ActBlue is a PAC, and I believe there is PAC money in this race,” Hermacinski said.
Melton denies that claim and said ActBlue is a platform she uses to process online contributions to her campaign, similar to PayPal.
“I know that this has been a question that has come up for some folks regarding my campaign, so I appreciate the opportunity to address that,” Melton said Tuesday.
During the forum, Hermacinski said ActBlue was a political action committee, citing OpenSecrets.org — an online public database operated by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C. — which tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy.
According to the group, ActBlue is a Carey committee or Hybrid PAC. The Federal Election Committee defines a Carey committee as a political committee that maintains one bank account for making contributions in connection with federal elections and a separate “non-contribution account” for making independent expenditures.
“I have never accepted PAC money in any of my four campaigns,” Hermacinski said.
ActBlue, which was founded in 2004, is a common tool used by Democrats to collect online donations at all levels, from local races like county commissioner to President Barack Obama’s campaign.
According to ActBlue’s website, the nonprofit is organized as a PAC, but it also provides the tools for campaigns and organizations to fundraise online, and it acts as a “conduit for small-dollar donations” made through the ActBlue platform.
The organization also states that under federal law, these contributions are not considered PAC donations because they are made by individuals and the donor’s name, address and employment are recorded with each donation as required by law.
Melton’s campaign finance report shows total credit card payments to ActBlue of $192.49, which document the 3.96 percent transaction fee the nonprofit charges on each donation. The report does not show Melton receiving any contributions from ActBlue.
“When people are concerned about PACs, people are concerned about money being hidden — dark money, undisclosed contributions,” Melton said. “There is none of that. Every individual has been fully disclosed and reported.”
She added that Routt County donors and out-of-state donors have contributed to her campaign through ActBlue because it is the platform she uses to accept online donations. Unless someone writes her a check, Melton said, her donations come through ActBlue.
“The vast majority of my donors, local or not, are people I know personally — friends, family, friends of family and people who believe in me and want to support me,” Melton said. “There are also those who care about Routt County and believe in what I want to do here.”
Melton did report one $800 contribution from Conservation Colorado on her campaign finance report. Conservation Colorado’s mission is “to protect Colorado’s environment and quality of life by mobilizing people and electing conservation-minded policymakers.”
The organization has endorsed Melton, and while the organization does have a PAC, Melton said the money she received from Conservation Colorado came from their small donor committee.
“I have not had any discussions with them about promising them anything,” Melton said. “They support me because I am a pro-conservation candidate, and they donated $800 of the $32,000 I’ve raised. It’s small.”
Melton added that she uses ActBlue not to recruit donors but to make it easy for donors to contribute to her online.
According to a Jan. 23 article in Real Clear Politics, “Platform Strikes Gold for Liberals,” Michael E. Hartmann, senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic Giving at the Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C., reported that ActBlue raised $522 million for Democrats and progressive causes in 2017 with an average contribution of $31.95.
“The last time around, Cari contributed $4,000 of her own money to her campaign,” Melton said. “I don’t have the capacity to do that and never intended to do that. I reached out to smaller donors. That grassroots process, in my opinion, is more democratic than donating a large sum of money to your own campaign.”
Melton is leading in the fundraising race for Routt County commissioner, reporting about $11,000 more in monetary contributions than Hermacinski.
In total, including monetary and in-kind donations, Melton has raised $40,416.60, which just surpasses the $39,429 Hermacinski spent to win the commissioner’s seat in 2014 over then-incumbent Democrat Steve Ivancie.
Melton and Hermacinski filed out-of-cycle campaign finance reports through the Colorado Secretary of State’s Tracer system last week after the Steamboat Pilot & Today made the request of the candidates. Initial campaign finance reports were filed July 20, and the next report is due Tuesday, Oct. 16.
The $20,000 in campaign funds raised by Hermacinski have come from 93 unique donors, and 94 percent of those donors have a Routt County address. The Republican’s average contribution is $205.45 and 20 percent of her donations are $50 or less.
Hermacinski’s most significant donations have come from: Bill Butler with Alpine Mountain Ranch, $1,500; Tom Fox with Fox Construction, $500; Dave and Michelle Barnes with Colorado Group Realty, $500; Rex Brice and Bettina Neset with Steamboat Restaurant Group, $500; Dr. Allen Belshaw, $500; Dr. John Lupori, $500; Cynthia Knox with Shaffield Building, $500; and John Soileau, retired, $500.
Melton has raised her money from 253 donors with an average contribution of $89.72. Sixty percent of Melton’s donors are from Routt County, and 65 percent of her donations are for $50 or less.
Melton’s largest donors include: John Merrill, retired from Hayden, $500; Marilyn Yager, attorney from Alexandria, Virginia, $1,000; John Sant Ambrogio, Steamboat Springs, $1,000; Paula Cooper Black, retired from Steamboat, $1,120; and Stephany Traylor with Ski Butlers, $1,181.
To date, Hermacinski has spent $19,608.38 on her campaign, and Melton has recorded $14,026.40 in campaign expenditures.
When Hermacinski was asked why she had raised only half of what she raised during her 2014 campaign for commissioner, she said she was running the same campaign as she did four years ago except for three differences: She did not have to spend $8,000 on large political signs because she was reusing those, and she was not doing social media advertising, which had cost her $8,000 in 2014. She also is using one campaign worker rather than two.
“I have the money I need to run the race I need to run,” Hermacinski said.
To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @lschlichtman.
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