CBS4’s Brian Maass reports, the busiest watchdog in Colorado politics is at it again–and this time he’s gotten quite a ways down the proverbial field, with a Denver grand jury now investigating alleged official misconduct on the part of GOP Secretary of State Wayne Williams:
CBS4 has learned a Denver grand jury is investigating criminal complaints against Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
The grand jury began meeting this month, hearing from witnesses and listening to evidence alleging “official misconduct” on the part of Williams and his office. First-degree official misconduct is a misdemeanor.
Ken Lane, a spokesperson for Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, responded to a CBS4 inquiry, ”I can confirm there is an open investigation in the Denver grand jury relating to the Colorado Secretary of State, and that it concerns campaign finance complaints and the collection of campaign finance penalties. Per the rules and procedures governing grand jury proceedings, we cannot comment further on pending grand jury investigations.”
Matt Arnold, a longtime conservative Republican activist and one-time candidate for the CU Board of Regents, deeply embarrassed high-level Republican operatives associated with two-time gubernatorial loser Bob Beauprez after he won a court ruling against Colorado Pioneer Action–an “independent” political group set up by Beauprez that targeted a number of right-wing Republicans in 2016 primaries. Arnold’s suit provoked an ethically dubious series of attacks from the Phil Anschutz-owned Colorado Springs Gazette on Arnold both by the editorial board and a reporter for the paper’s political blog–both of which had financial ties to Beauprez’s group.
So no, Matt Arnold is not very popular at Republican insider cocktail parties. We can’t speak to the motivations behind all of Arnold’s mercurial actions, but in Pioneer Action’s case it would straightforwardly be in defense of the incumbent Republicans Beauprez targeted. Whatever was going on behind the scenes there, it’s not hard to understand why Arnold–like other conservative Republicans who support those candidates–did what he did.
As for Arnold’s complaint against Williams, there are two parts: first being a fine of almost $10,000 owed by a Colorado Springs-area political committee for which Sen. Bob Gardner is the registered agent. The second part, as we’ll let Arnold himself explain, concerns Williams’ intervention in numerous campaign finance cases on behalf of defendants Arnolds says are Williams’ cronies:
Arnold says a more serious problem being examined by the grand jury is Williams office using at least $25,000 in state money to legally intervene in at least half a dozen campaign finance cases.
According to Arnold’s complaint, ”Williams, in committing state resources to essentially act as defense counsel for several lawbreaking organizations and individuals, all of whom are his allies and/or contributors, acts unethically and is without parallel on the record. Consequently, Secretary Williams has, in an unauthorized exercise of his official function, directed the misuse of over $25,000 of taxpayer (public) funds for the benefit of the above-listed committees – all of whom are run by associates and political allies of Secretary Williams, who has put favors to friends above his duties to his office, the state of Colorado, and the citizens of this state, from late 2015 through at least the end of 2016 (and continuing).”
As you can imagine, Williams doesn’t agree! We want to wait to see what the grand jury investigating concludes before waxing definitive, but here’s what we’ll say in the meantime: the Secretary of State in Colorado, as a partisan elected official in charge of the elections process, may honestly be inherently conflicted in the way the duties of the office are carried out. Long before Wayne Williams, there was former Secretary of State Scott Gessler who offered to appear in a dunk tank to raise money to pay off Republican Party fines. You had Secretary of State Mike Coffman’s brush with scandal over a high-level aide caught peddling voter data to Republicans on the side. Gigi Dennis’ controversial attempts to throttle Democratic money in the last days before the 2006 election. The list of these conflict-y situations involving our Secretaries of State frankly goes on and on, and we could see a court somewhere along the line finding fundamental and systemic problems with the office’s duties and responsibilities.
In that regard, Williams would not be unique from his predecessors–but if the accountability for a much larger problem comes down on Williams’ watch, he’d still be the one to take the fall. Either way, we have no intention of blowing this off the way Arnold’s critics have always insisted we do with every one of his many accountability campaigns.
Because Bob Beauprez tried that, and Matt Arnold had the last laugh.