Council places charter provision on ballot

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At its meeting Tuesday, the Craig City Council took the final step needed to allow voters to keep or repeal a city charter provision that limits a person's personal financial contributions to their own political campaign.

The council voted unanimously, 5-0, for the second reading of an ordinance to place a ballot question on the November general election ballot, which will ask voters if they want to repeal the city charter provision titled "Statement of Expenses."

Councilors Ray Beck and Byron Willems were absent.

The provision has been labeled unconstitutional by some, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it violates a 1976 Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo. In that case, the court determined someone's personal contributions to their own campaign could not be restricted without violating his or her right to free speech.

The charter provision first came under scrutiny in May, when the council voted to prosecute resident Francisco Reina, a council candidate in the April 2009 election, for violating the provision's spending limit.

As it reads, the provision limits a person's personal contribution to his or her campaign to $500, whereas Reina submitted documents to the city clerk that declared he spent $1,512.78, more than three times the limit.

City Attorney Kenny Wohl raised the question of the provision's constitutionality during that meeting, and councilors said it was not their role to determine a law's worth.

The charter was approved by local voters, and only the courts should decide whether it is allowed under the U.S. Constitution.

Reina was cited with a Class A municipal violation, and faced possible penalties of as much as a $1,000 fine and as many as 180 days in jail, until Wohl dropped the case at Reina's court appearance June 17.

Two days before the charge was dismissed, however, Reina's legal team - led by the American Civil Liberties Union - filed a civil suit against the city in Moffat County District Court.

According to the complaint filed on Reina's behalf, the ACLU team is seeking a permanent injunction barring the city from prosecuting anyone for violating the local spending limit and monetary damages equal to attorneys' fees and any other amount the court deems warranted.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com.

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