Judge rules Sarah Levison violated Longmont campaign finance reporting requirement

Municipal Judge Robert Frick violated reporting requirements in Longmont‘s Fair Campaign Practices Act during her mayoral campaign last fall.

Frick‘s ruling, and his order that Levison pay a total of $16,000 in fines for four separate violations of Longmont‘s municipal campaign finance code, upheld City Clerk‘s Valeria Skitt‘s findings and rejected Levison‘s challenges of those findings and Skitt‘s interpretation of the FCPA.

“No comment,” Levison said when asked for her reaction to Frick‘s conclusions.

However, Angelique Layton, Levison‘s attorney, said: “We‘re extremely disappointed by the court‘s decision.”

Said Layton: “We‘re considering our alternatives” after Frick‘s ruling.

It was unclear, though, whether Levison will ever have to pay the fines.

The City Council in February of such fines, pending a staff report about and council review of the entire Fair Campaign Practices Act. That review has not yet been scheduled.

At issue was Levison‘s failure to file complete pre-election reports about her campaign spending on “electioneering communications” — reports that the code requires be made whenever such spending on flyers, banners, advertising and other electioneering reaches or exceeds a $250 threshold.

The city‘s contention has been that those electioneering reports have to be aggregated reports, including amounts spent separately and above the initial $250 amount within a certain time frame after that spending occurs.

Levison and her attorney contended that Longmont‘s local election law does not make that requirement clear and that she had shown the additional spending on the overall contributions and expenditures reports the candidates are also required to file periodically.

Levison had taken her case to municipal court rather than pay the fines. Frick‘s Monday morning ruling followed two days of hearings, on and and the submission of written briefs last week. Assistant City Attorney Jeff Friedland and Layton presented their final oral arguments on Monday.

“This ordinance can be very confusing,” Layton said during her argument. She contended that Skitt had a duty “to let Ms. Levison know that she was not properly reporting” the electioneering expenses, as the city clerk was interpreting the law.

Friedland, however, in addition to arguing the clarity of the Fair Campaign Practices Act‘s requirements and definitions, said determining whether violations have occurred is a complaint-driven process in which the clerk investigates allegations that contribution and expenditure rules have been broken.

Layton told the judge that, by upholding some of Friedland‘s objections during the hearings, he had not allowed Levison to present evidence that Layton said would have shown that no other candidates interpreted the code‘s electioneering reporting requirement in the way Skitt said it must be interpreted.

Layton has said in a letter to the Times-Call editorial page, and mentioned during her closing argument, that even Brian Bagley, who filed the complaints about the accuracy of Levison‘s electioneering reports, had made a $66 expenditure on advertising on Sept. 20 that Bagley failed to note on an electioneering report he filed on Sept. 25.

According to online reports on the city clerk‘s elections website, Bagley did not include the $66.78 for Facebook ads in his Sept. 20 report about $5,590.61 spent on campaign letters, postage and envelopes, but he did list it on an Oct. 17 pre-election report of overall contributions and expenses as of Oct. 15.

Bagley won last year‘s three-way mayoral contest with Levison and Roger Lange.

after Levison complained to Skitt that some of his election materials failed to state he or his campaign committee had paid for those materials.

Levison did not file a complaint about Bagley‘s failure to report the $66 expenditure by last winter‘s deadline for making such complaints.

Bagley said in a Monday afternoon interview that he did not know what Layton was referring to.

He said that if Levison had filed a complaint about his failure to include the $66 in spending on a separate electioneering report, and if Skitt agreed that he‘d violated the code, he would have paid any resulting fine — just as he paid fines he was assessed for failing to state on the election materials that his campaign had paid for those materials.

“She filed against me, and I paid my fines,” said Bagley, who called in February for the council to revisit and “make significant changes” to the Fair Campaign Practice Act‘s requirements and penalties for violating those requirements.

He said on Monday that he did not think the current code “is something that benefits Longmont. It puts a chill on anybody who wants to run for office.”

Friedland said during his closing argument that Layton referred to evidence about other candidates‘ reports that the judge had not allowed to be included in testimony or the record, so it was legally irrelevant.