Walker Stapleton: Treasurer in Absentia

Walker Stapleton.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton: Working for you. Sometimes.

It is only Wednesday, but it has not been a good week for State Treasurer Walker Stapleton. And it is only going to get worse from here.

Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court dealt Stapleton a blow by refusing to hear his legal attempt aimed at opening up the books of PERA, the Public Employees Retirement Association. As the very-thorough blog Pensions 360 explains:

Back in 2011, Stapleton filed a lawsuit seeking the release of retirement benefit data for Colorado’s highest-earning pensioners. But the state’s pension fund, the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), said the information was confidential and refused to release it.

Since then, two lower courts have sided with the pension system on the issue. Stapleton appealed the rulings all the way to the state Supreme Court—but the Court announced today that they wouldn’t be hearing his case.

Stapleton has been trying to gain access to information about the top 20 percent of PERA's beneficiaries and their annual retirement benefit. Stapleton's lawsuit, ostensibly to "learn" more information that could give him insight into what he calls "financial DNA" about PERA investments, has been widely dimissed as a political ploy. The PERA board refused Stapleton's request for the data back in 2011, citing privacy concerns and noting that accessing the data was not a function of his role as a trustee of the retirement account. 

Today, however, comes word that Stapleton doesn't typically bother to attend PERA Board meetings anyway. According to information obtained via Colorado's Open Records laws, here's Stapleton's attendance record at PERA Board meetings:

2012: There were 10 PERA meetings. Stapleton attended 3, but left early at 2 of those.

2013: There were 7 PERA meetings. Stapleton attended 2, but left both early.

*NOTE: From the September 20, 2013 PERA Board Meeting Minutes: “Mr. Stapleton requested the removal of his absence from the June 25, 2013 Board meeting minutes, as his designee Brett Johnson was present.”

2014 (through June): There have been 5 PERA Board meetings. Minutes are not available for the June 24 meeting. Of the other 4 meetings, he has fully attended 1 and left early at another 2 meetings.

Stapleton's dismal attendance record at PERA Board meetings makes it difficult for him to argue that his lawsuit — or anything else related to PERA — has been done with the best intentions of Colorado retirees in mind. Stapleton hasn't proven to be particularly savvy when it comes to investment decisions around PERA (or investment advice in general), and his lax attendance at Board meetings further calls into question his capability and interest in managing the state's money.

But perhaps more importantly for Stapleton, this information is a serious mark on his resume as he looks to be re-elected in 2014 and hints at a possible run for Governor in 2018. You might recall that Stapleton was widely criticized for moonlighting on the job; Stapleton has continued to work for the real estate firm SonomaWest Holdings while he has served as State Treasurer, and his poor attendance record at PERA Board meetings again brings up the question of just how committed he is to the job in which in was elected to serve.

If Stapleton can't find time to attend meetings directly related to his elected position…what is he doing instead? And why are taxpayers footing the bill?


Markey Slams Stapleton’s PERA Obsession on West Slope Tour

Betsy Markey.

Betsy Markey.

While all eyes in Denver have been on the big Frackapalooza compromise reached this week, former Rep. Betsy Markey, now the Democratic candidate for state treasurer, has been touring the Western Slope–and previewing her message against GOP incumbent Walker Stapleton with the local press. As the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reported yesterday, and the Durango Herald's Chuck Slothower similarly reports today:

Markey said the only issue Stapleton focuses on is the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association, and then only to criticize it, even though it’s working just fine.

“This is a big, dynamic state,” Markey told the editorial board of The Daily Sentinel. “We turn big ideas into reality, and the treasurer’s office should be no different. We can’t just focus on beating down teachers and state workers and their pension program.”

Since taking the job in 2010, Stapleton has been highly critical of the board that oversees PERA, saying its expectation of high returns is unrealistic even though it’s realized 15 percent and 12 percent returns on those investment the past two years, respectively. State treasurers serve on that board as part of their jobs.

Markey, who represented the Eastern Plains in Congress for one term in 2008-09, said problems with PERA’s long-term sustainability were largely addressed by the Legislature years ago, which helped turn the state’s largest public pension system into one of the nation’s best.

Walker Stapleton.

Walker Stapleton.

Markey is referring to 2010's Senate Bill 1, which significantly increased employee contributions to the Public Employees' Retirement Association, as well as reducing the rate of annual increase for benefits. Representing a major concession by employees in the interest of preserving PERA's solvency, Senate Bill 1 was considered by all parties at the time to be a long-term fix for the nation's 21st largest public pension system.

But it's never been enough for Treasurer Stapleton, who took office the January after Senate Bill 1 was signed into law. Stapleton has continuously harped on the need for the fund to base its projections on a lower rate of return in order to "keep taxpayers off the hook" for PERA pensions. He has continued to demand this even as the fund has blown past its projected rates of return in the last couple of years as the economy has recovered. While a 15% rate of return is not something Colorado's public employee retirees can count on, PERA managers feel comfortable with the rate of return they project for the long term. Last November, PERA lowered its expected rate of return by .5%, but that hasn't stopped Stapleton from continuing to make PERA a campaign issue.

Our shorter answer to this technical debate over PERA's solvency is that we don't have much confidence in Walker Stapleton's opinion on fiscal matters, you know, at all. Try as we might, we just can't get past the fact that this is the same guy who warned of a coming "hyperinflationary environment" in 2010 based on all the supposed fiscal evils being committed by the Obama administration in Washington–actually going as far as to suggest the state should buy gold Glenn Beck-style to stave off this coming disaster.

We've never heard Stapleton's explanation for why this "hyperinflationary environment" never happened. We'd like to, and we hope to sometime between now and November. We get that 2010 was a heady time in Republican politics, and it was necessary to say all kinds of crazy things to win their support–but still. You'll have to forgive us if we can't take Stapleton's word on PERA's rate of return over their actual performance.

Sad Walker Stapleton Wishes “State Treasurer” Title Made Him Financial Expert

Walker Stapleton hyper-inflation

Walker Stapleton prefers not to talk about his 2010 suggestion that Colorado invest more heavily in gold.

Do you have any idea what kind of requirements you must meet in order to become Colorado's State Treasurer?

Not much, actually. You must be at least 25 years of age; a Colorado resident for a minimum of 2 years; and a United States Citizen. That's it — that's all there is in the Colorado State Statutes. You don't need to have any sort of special training in finance. You don't even need to have a college degree in, well, anything. Primarily, you just need to have been alive for awhile and in Colorado recently.

Why do we bring this up? Because State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has been trying to get appointed to something called The Colorado Retirement Security Task Force, which is being set up by the legislature regarding…yes, retirement savings (bill sponsors Sen. Pat Steadman and Rep. John Bucker outlined their legislation in a recent Denver Post Op-Ed). Stapleton was apparently angry that he did not receive an invitation to the task force, and he and his supporters argued (and whined) that it was inconceivable someone could form a financial task force in Colorado and not include the expertise of the State Treasurer.

This was apparently a big deal for Stapleton supporters, with right-wing blogs devoting multiple posts to the topic this week. In one post this week from the blog Colorado Peak Politics, the author makes the case for including Stapleton on the Task Force while at the same time complaining that the whole idea is stupid anyway — basically repeating what teenagers across Colorado are saying this time of year when they don't get invited to Prom. Here's the "why Stapleton" argument:

Treasurer Walker Stapleton is the only statewide official who sits on the board of the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), and his expertise would be invaluable to the task force.  So why block him from participating?


How About Those Bush Family Ties, Walker Stapleton?

Jeb Bush, Walker Stapleton.

Jeb Bush, Walker Stapleton.

The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels reported yesterday, Treasurer Walker Stapleton is getting some family help from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at a fundraiser next month.

Oh wait, you didn't actually know Walker Stapleton is a member of the illustrious Bush family, did you? It's not a secret of course, but judging from cousin Jeb's favorability ratings in yesterday's Quinnipiac University poll of Colorado voters, it may not be something Stapleton wants to lead with:

Jeb Bush, who is coming to Colorado next month for a fundraiser for state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, has some work to do when it comes to raising his appeal in the Centennial State.

A new poll released today by Quinnipiac University shows Bush with the most lopsided favorability ratings of all the potential 2016 presidential candidates. Only 29 percent of Coloradans have a favorable opinion of him, while 40 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Another 30 percent hadn’t heard enough about him to form an opinion.

Bush said Wednesday he is thinking of running for president, his strongest statement yet about the 2016 contest.

Those numbers don't bode well for a third Bush as President of the United States, folks.

Just so everybody's clear, Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton's first name Walker is also George Walker Bush's middle name, and one of George Herbert Walker Bush's middle names, and if you didn't already know this, George W. Bush (and Jeb, naturally) is Walker Stapleton's second cousin. Stapleton's 2006 wedding was held at the Bush family's Kennebunkport, Maine peninsular compound named Walker's Point. The Washington Post reported that Stapleton was working out with George W. Bush when Bush got the call in 2000 that the election in Florida was going haywire. We were obliged to note all of this again for the record back in 2010 when Stapleton rather ludicrously said on the campaign trail:

I’m proud to say I’ve never been part of inside politics.

After being in office four years, not to mention cousin Jeb coming to town, hopefully he's dispensed with that.

With all of this in mind, here's our question: if Stapleton's Bush family lineage was more broadly known, how would Colorado voters respond to that in this year's elections? Might cousin Jeb's low approval ratings be any guide?

Audio: Did Suthers Just Dis Walker Stapleton?

An unintentionally hilarious quote from outgoing Attorney General John Suthers, interviewed this week on Colorado Public Radio:

JOHN SUTHERS: You know, if you can't handle the heat, and your sole objective in life is to cater to your political base, run for Treasurer, [Pols emphasis] run for something else but don't run for Attorney General.

Hey, wait a minute! We know somebody who resembles that remark.


Present treasurers excluded, right? Or not? Suthers is pretty careful about his choice of words, folks…

Statewide Candidates Q4 Fundraising: Winners and Losers

El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams.

Who has two thumbs and can’t fundraise for shit? This guy (Wayne Williams).

As we do after every fundraising quarter (see Q3 here), we've tallied up the money raised and spent by the various candidates running for statewide office in Colorado. There were some very clear winners for the period ending on December 31, 2013, and some equally clear losers.

Media reports often show how much money candidates have raised in a certain period, without taking into account how much money they have spent; Republican Tom Tancredo, for example, raised a decent $191k in Q4, but he spent $203k. That's a good quarter…if you are on his payroll.

Take a look after the jump to see how the numbers break down:


Pat Quinn Comes to His Senses, Withdraws from Treasurer Race

Pat Quinn, State Treasurer

This sign marks the end of your ability to be recognized.

Democrat Pat Quinn announced today that he was ending his race for State Treasurer after five months of raising little money, spending most of it, and touring the state in an effort to find out just how completely unknown he was outside of Broomfield (press release after the jump).

The term-limited Mayor of Broomfield, Quinn jumped into the race for State Treasurer in June, oddly entering the contest on the same day that Democrat Betsy Markey was making her announcement for the same campaign. Quinn was (and remains) a virtual unknown even in Democratic party circles, so his announcement was unexpected for many reasons.

Quinn had a very weak Q3 fundraising period, reporting just $33k raised and $7k in the bank (or about $72,000 less than Democratic Treasurer candidate Betsy Markey), and when the reports came out we noted that it was time for Quinn to start thinking about where this was really headed.

But Quinn's campaign will be missed for one thing: It was the only campaign to go public with statewide polling numbers, giving us a glimpse into the potential popularity of a variety of elected officials. In fact, Quinn may be the only candidate in the history of Colorado politics (maybe even national) to intentionally release to the press results of a poll showing that 91% of Coloradans had never heard of a Pat Quinn.

So long, Quinn. It's been…brief.


Statewide Candidates Q3 Fundraising: Winners and Losers

Cynthia Coffman

Cynthia Coffman (R) was one of several candidates for whom Q3 was their first full fundraising period.

For many statewide candidates in Colorado, the Q3 fundraising period was their first full quarter to be shaking out the loose change from supporters and other well-wishers.

The Q3 reports also give us our first chance to take a good look at most of the entire field of candidates, though a couple will keep us waiting another few months (Mike Kopp and Wayne Williams did not file their campaign committee paperwork until after the Q3 deadline).

So who did well, and who laid a big ugly egg? Take a look after the jump to find out.


Walker Stapleton Raises $325k

Republican Treasurer Walker Stapleton reported an impressive fundraising total for Q3, bringing in $325,185 for the three months ending in September.

Stapleton has been fairly quiet since first getting elected in 2010, and Democrats Betsy Markey and Pat Quinn have set their sights on unseating the incumbent. Stapleton has done very little fundraising since 2010, but he made up for that in a big way in Q3 — collected three times as much money as Markey.

Interesting Results (and Strategy) Revealed in New Statewide Poll

Democrat Pat Quinn, who surprised political observers by jumping into the State Treasurer race earlier this month (on the same day that Democrat Betsy Markey announced her candidacy) took another unusual step today. This morning Quinn released the full results of a statewide poll that, spin from the campaign aside, really aren't all that favorable to the little-known Broomfield Mayor.

Betsy Markey

Not Pat Quinn

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton


The strategy here is obviously to try to get potential supporters and donors to believe that Quinn is truly a viable candidate, though the results of the poll really don't work out that way. As the polling memo explains (Anzalone/Liszt/Grove did the survey), however, things look good for Markey and not as good for incumbent Republican Walker Stapleton:

Walker Stapleton is unknown and ill-defined. Stapleton enters the race with no incumbency advantage – only 22% of voters know who he is (11% favorable / 11% unfavorable), including only 23% of Republicans who can rate him. Independent voters are among the least familiar, only 16% can rate him.

Once voters learn very basic information about him (his partisanship and his job title), more voters are able  to  rate  the  job  he’s  doing  – 36%  approve  of  the  job  he’s  doing,  though  52%  are  still  not able  to  rate   him.

The memo tries to make the case that Quinn might be better for Democrats than Markey because of the latter's "high negatives," but the numbers aren't really that bad for her.

The numbers mean little for Quinn no matter the spin, because he has to be able to beat Markey in a primary first — and this poll doesn't address that issue.

Let's break down some of the more interesting numbers: 


Flashback: Walker Stapleton, Gold-Hoarding Teabagger

Walker Stapleton.

Walker Stapleton.

FOX 31's Eli Stokols sets the scene today:

Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Republican, announced Thursday that he’s seeking a second term.

Not surprisingly, the entire GOP establishment is lining up behind Stapleton, whose press release touted the support of Attorney General John Suthers, Broncos vice president John Elway, Rockies owner Dick Monfort, his 2010 primary rival J.J. Ament, attorney Norm Brownstein and businessman Larry Mizel.

“Our accomplishments in the Treasurer’s office are not partisan or controversial but examples of common sense solutions for the taxpayers of Colorado,” Stapleton said in a statement…

Treasurer Walker Stapleton's first term in office as Treasurer is coming to a close, and it's proven to be a good deal for him–not least for his sweet arrangement that allows him to collect a six-digit income from his side investment business while drawing his taxpayer-funded salary. Treasurer Stapleton's investment strategy for the state has not been overly controversial to our knowledge, though we do hear complaints from time to time about the rate of return. But there was a time, back in 2010, when Stapleton was singing a very different tune–and while "Tea Party" furor raged, and Stapleton faced a Republican primary opponent, it was sometimes necessary for Stapleton to advocate for fiscal policies both "partisan" and "controversial."

For example, take this recorded debate between Stapleton and opponent J.J. Ament from June of 2010:

In this 2010 debate against Ament, Stapleton warned of a coming "hyperinflationary environment" due to various evil Obama tax-and-spend depredations, a very popular prediction on the right at the time, and recommends Glenn Beck-style that "using gold" as a "hedge against inflation" is "something we need to investigate."

At the time Stapleton said this, the price of gold was extremely high, and anti-government "Tea Party" paranoia sentiment was peaking. But as it turns out, we did not enter any "hyperinflationary environment" after 2010, and the price of gold today is hundreds less than its peak–or for that matter, the price it was during this debate in 2010. That should make any financially literate voter very happy that Stapleton didn't take his own advice.

Now folks, we're not naive, and we honestly doubt that Stapleton meant a word of this nonsense when he offered it in a primary whose terms were dictated by the radical right. This was a season, after all, when most every Republican candidate was compelled to repeat, for lack of a better term, goddamn crazy talk.

But really, somebody should be asked about this–Stapleton, Larry Mizel, somebody. Does every Republican who ran the "Tea Party" gauntlet in 2010 get a pass for the crazy things they were "forced" to endorse?

Let's get some "GOP establishment" types to say so then.

Two Democrats Announce for State Treasurer

Former Congresswoman Betsy Markey announced her candidacy for State Treasurer this morning (full release after the jump), as we noted earlier. Her entry into the race to defeat Republican incumbent Walker Stapleton had been rumored for months, and until today there were no other potential Democrats considering the office.

And then there was Pat Quinn. The term-limited Mayor of Broomfield announced out of nowhere this afternoon that he, too, would be running as a Democrat for State Treasurer. Check out his strange press release after the jump, the topline message of which is "efficient transportation and accessible open space."

If you're confused by Quinn's announcement, you're not alone. Markey has considerably better name recognition and fundraising capabilities, so Quinn has a long way to go to make this a competitive race. But if he knew he was going to run for Treasurer, why wait until now to announce the news? With no other Democrat in the race, Quinn could have been out beating the bushes for months now — and perhaps shown enough strength to convince Markey not to run in the first place.

Since Markey's base is in Northern Colorado, theoretically she could face a tough Primary against a Democrat from the Denver area…but not against a candidate who is also from Northern Colorado. It would seem that there must be more behind Quinn's apparently sudden announcement — at least, there should be. Unless Quinn has the money to self-fund his campaign to a significant degree, there's little reason to think he can make a serious run at Markey.


The Big Line Updated

With the 2013 legislative session behind us, we've updated The Big Line with our latest projections. Of note:

  • It looks more and more as though Republican Scott Gessler will run for Governor rather than Secretary of State (as we suggested last year), so we've moved his line "off" the board for SOS.
  • With Gessler off the board, the race for SOS is anybody's guess. Maybe Democrat Ken Gordon will arise from his five-month slumber, or perhaps there will even be a Joe Neguse sighting. Either way, the big news will be if Jefferson County Clerk & Recorder Pam Anderson decides to enter the race, as expected.
  • There aren't any real scenarios whereby Democratic Sen. Mark Udall does not get re-elected, so we've adjusted his odds accordingly.
  • We've changed CD-6 to make Democrat Andrew Romanoff a slight favorite over Republican Rep. Mike Coffman. Romanoff is off to a strong start, and the DCCC seems particularly enthused about a race Democrats probably should have won in 2012.