Dave Gardner, an activist critical of the influence of developers at City Hall, says some of the contributions came early, potentially acting to stifle potential newcomers from launching their own campaigns. The money -- perfectly legal so long as it is disclosed -- also appears to cozy the council and developers in sprawling Colorado Springs, Gardner said. "(Contributors) know it's going to be a little harder for that candidate to take a position against them."
To which Jerry Heimlicher, an incumbent running unopposed in District 3 on the city's southwest side, fired back: "When I work for only $6,250 a year and my only benefit is free parking at the airport, the suggestion that I can be bought is ridiculous."
Early voting for the April 5 election began Monday. Seven candidates are running for four open seats. In addition to Heimlicher, Councilman Darryl Glenn is running unopposed in District 2. Council members Scott Hente and Margaret Radford face challengers in Districts 1 and 4, respectively.
Five candidates have raised a combined total of more than $40,000, according to campaign-finance disclosures filed at the city clerk's office. The money goes toward billboards, yard signs, mailings and schmoozers -- all meant to attract the attention of voters and establish name recognition.
The amount contributed by developers and related special interests constitutes at least 40 percent of the total campaign money in the election. This year, as was the case two years ago, the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs is so far the single biggest contributor, giving a total of $7,500 to Heimlicher, Glenn and Hente.
The HBA represents hundreds of local realtors, banks and developers that regularly oppose restrictions on growth. A complete tally won't be available until early May when final campaign disclosure files are due.
Ralph Braden, of the HBA's political action committee, did not return calls seeking comment. But Al Brody, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is challenging Hente, chastised candidates for accepting contributions from the developer's group. He was especially concerned about contributions received by Hente, who is also a developer.
"It just leads one to wonder," said Brody, who has raised about $5,000 in contributions mainly from small businesses and individuals. Brody said he would decline any HBA contributions if they were forthcoming, because he views such large, corporate contributions as rife with pitfalls.
"I believe there is undue influence on the council," Brody said.
The right to contribute
Hente, who has raised roughly $13,000 (of which a significant portion came from developers), said he "couldn't disagree more."
"Any industry has the right to contribute," Hente said.
Hente said he has, several times in the last two years, withdrawn from votes involving a developer to avoid an actual or perceived conflict of interest.
Heimlicher said he accepted contributions from developers, among others, to help recover more than $9,000 of his own money -- part of a loan to himself from the 2003 council race.
Glenn could not be reached for comment.
Radford, meanwhile, has accepted more than $7,000 in contributions -- several from developers or associated interests. She defended the contributions, pointing out she also received many small ones from ordinary residents.
"Nobody gets anything special other than a personalized thank-you note," Radford said.
She is facing challenges from Tony Carpenter and write-in candidate Richard Caruth. Neither has raised any funds, according to their campaign forms.
Radford said she feels she must raise funds because she isn't sure whether her challengers will eventually receive contributions.
-- Michael de Yoanna