In a 7-3 vote, the Aurora City Council passed a major campaign finance reform ordinance Monday night, increasing transparency and limiting money in the city’s local elections.
The ordinance limits donations from individuals and committees to $1,000 in at-large and mayor races and $400 for city council wards.
It also bans contributions from "artificial persons" and increases transparency of donations and enforcement of regulations.
The ordinance, sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Nicole Johnston and council member Juan Marcano, will go into effect on Jan. 1.
“This is the most comprehensive campaign finance reform the city has ever had,” Johnston said. “It won’t solve all of our issues, but it will bring the much-needed transparency and accountability the community deserves.”
Previously, Aurora imposed no limits on donations to candidates. Because of this, city elections have become increasingly expensive.
The 2019 mayoral race was the most expensive election in the city’s history, reaching $1 million in fundraising nearly a month before the election.
Two weeks before the election, now-Mayor Mike Coffman received $50,000 in a single finance disclosure period.
Some of his contributions included $5,000 from oil and gas operator Benson Mineral Group and $2,500 from real estate mogul Larry Mizel.
Coffman issued a competing finance reform plan that was killed at vote in October.
Coffman’s plan had similar donation limits but significantly lower violation fees, with a $100-per-day fee compared to Johnston and Marcano’s fee of $500 to $1,000 per day.
Johnston's and Marcano’s ordinance also threatens anyone intentionally violating finance requirements with a fine of $10,000 or three times the contribution, whatever is greater.
In addition to Johnston and Marcano, the ordinance received yes votes from council members Curtis Gardner, Angela Lawson, Allison Hiltz, Crystal Murillo and Alison Coombs.
Council members Dave Gruber, Marsha Berzins and Francoise Bergan voted no. The three previously expressed support for Coffman’s alternative plan.
Johnston and Marcano worked with Aurora residents Dale Nichols and Susan Gilbert to write the initial draft of the ordinance.
They edited the draft using feedback from community members over the course of a year.
“I am very proud of the work we’ve put into this home-grown ordinance,” Marcano said. “I believe it will be the gold standard for municipal elections in our state.”
The ordinance is one of five campaign finance reforms passed in Colorado in the past three years, including Denver’s 2018 Fair Elections Act and similar 2019 reforms in Lakewood.
The ordinance was endorsed by organizations including CleanSlateNow Action, PDA Colorado, Our Revolution Metro Denver, Colorado Working Families Party, Colorado Common Cause, DSA Colorado, Indivisible CD6, The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy Enter Colorado.