Westminster recall money flows outside city

A look at who’s donating to whom in Westminster’s recall fight

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On both sides of Westminster’s recall election, money is flowing to and from political power players outside the city’s borders. The “to” and “from” are where the two sides differ.

The Colorado Democratic Party and Democratic leaders in the region have come to the aid of the anti-recall group. Meanwhile the pro-recall group has spent a total of $18,156 on its attorney, Scott Gessler, former Colorado secretary of state and candidate for Colorado GOP chairman, according to an analysis of campaign finance reports filed by both groups between September and June. Virtually all the Water Warriors’ expenses, some of which are still owed, went to attorneys fees.

In less than two weeks, on July 20, Westminster voters will decide whether to recall City Councilor Jon Voelz and if so, to elect candidate Kathleen Dodaro to take his place. For months now, Defend Westminster has raised money and campaigned for Voelz to retain his seat. The Westminster Water Warriors — who originally sought to recall four members of Westminster City Council — would see a successful recall of Voelz as evidence that their messaging about Voelz’s stance on water rates was compelling for citizens.

The Water Warriors started the recall campaign in September against Voelz, Mayor Anita Seitz, Councilor Kathryn Skulley and former Mayor Herb Atchison over claims that the four supported raising water rates or did not support lowering water rates. Ultimately, the Water Warriors gathered enough signatures on recall petitions for Voelz and Atchison to trigger recall elections against the two. Atchison resigned soon after the announcement.

In May, supporters filed a protest on Voelz’s behalf contesting signatures on his recall petitions. An administrative hearing officer determined the recall election could still proceed because Voelz’s petition contained three signatures above the minimum threshold required to trigger a recall election.

The city will pay Community Resource Services of Colorado up to $250,000 to run the special election because it is not part of a coordinated county election. Voelz’s council seat is up for election again in November. 

The money raised and spent by Defend Westminster and the Water Warriors pales in comparison to how much the city will spend using general fund dollars to manage the special election, but the amounts are still significant.

Since September, the Water Warriors have raised $19,376 and spent $21,383, according to an analysis of campaign finance reports filed by three different committees affiliated with the Water Warriors. Since May, Defend Westminster has raised $9,030 and spent $52, according to the group’s only campaign finance report that has been posted to the city’s website.

The largest donation Defend Westminster received was from the Colorado Democratic Party for $3,400. The second largest donations were for $1,000, one from the local pipefitters union — which represents plumbers, fitters and welders — and the other from Clara Banzin, a Westminster resident.

Three of the five Adams County commissioners donated to Defend Westminster, Steven O’Dorisio, Emma Pinter, a Westminster resident, and Eva Henry, all of whom are Democrats. Adams County Democratic Party Chair Lori Goldstein, a Westminster resident, gave, as did chair of the Clear Creek Democratic Party, Larry Pyers, and secretary of the Arapahoe County Democratic Party, Melissa Garland. Carol Campbell, a Westminster resident, vice chair of the Adams County Democratic Party, is listed as Defend Westminster's registered agent. Former Westminster City Councilor Sheela Mahnke donated to Defend Westminster, and candidates running for city council in November 2021, Sarah Nurmela and Obi Ezeadi, also did.

Some out-of-state people gave to the anti-recall campaign, including an attorney from Indiana and a film editor from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Water Warriors’ fundraising base is mostly made up of locals donating smaller amounts of money. A portion of the donors are small business owners or real estate agents.

Expenditures stand out the most in the Water Warriors’ financial reports. The group has spent $19,156 in legal fees, almost all of which went to Gessler. Gessler has told the Window that even though he’s well-known in Republican circles throughout Colorado, his work for the Water Warriors has only been in a legal capacity, not a political one.

Currently, the total amount of legal fees the Water Warriors owe Gessler is about $40,000, but invoices are still coming in, said Debbie Teter, an organizer with the Water Warriors. 

Additionally, the Water Warriors have spent $860 on Facebook ads, a tool the group has leveraged to solicit fundraising for legal fees, muster public commenters for city council meetings, and campaign for city council candidates running for office or reelection in the November municipal election.

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