Lars Gesing writes for the Colorado Independent:
Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams’s recent acknowledgement that he spends up to 15 hours a week moonlighting as a private attorney has come under fire from his Democratic rival for office and from watchdogs who warn of potential conflicts of interest. The campaign flap renews a conversation about the ethics of statewide office holders working side jobs…
Williams is not the first statewide elected official to moonlight. State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, this year’s Republican nominee for governor, took office in 2011 and continued to work as a consultant for Sonoma West, a real estate company that Securities and Exchange Commission documents show he previously ran.
Also in 2011, Williams’s predecessor, Scott Gessler, said he planned to continue doing side work for the Hackstaff Law Group after he took office, but Gessler ultimately scrapped the idea when the firm said it had reservations about clients’ privacy. It also posed a potential minefield of conflicts of interest since the firm also was known for its work in election and campaign law, precisely the area Gessler was elected to oversee. Also, during that same period, then-state Attorney General John Suthers taught two university classes, boosting his income by about $20,000 to $30,000 a year.
During a Sept. 8 debate before Club 20, the Western Slope civic group in Grand Junction, Williams told his Democratic challenger, Jena Griswold, that he has continued to practice employment law on the side to augment his $68,500 state salary.
“Do you believe that Coloradans deserve a full-time secretary of state?” Griswold asked him.
“I do, and they have one,” Williams responded…
Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ moonlighting as a private attorney representing clients before other state agencies and state courts is strikingly similar to the attempt by former Secretary of State Scott Gessler to work on the side at his former election law firm, a firm that specialized in election law. Gessler’s moonlighting bid ended quietly after GOP Attorney General John Suthers “consulted” with Gessler on the matter, but Williams has always been better at staying under the critical radar than his immediate predecessor.
All the same, this story is a reminder that while Williams has avoided some of the political pitfalls that in the end doomed Gessler’s political career, his term in office hasn’t been free of lowlights. Williams ran for office in opposition to Colorado’s landmark mail ballot election system, even going on FOX News to warn that “union bosses” would use mail ballots to intimidate voters. Today he’s an evangelist for the law he once opposed.
But by far the worst moment in Williams term came in mid-2017, when the Trump administration convened an ill-fated commission to investigate Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 elections. While most Secretaries of State around the country rebuffed this commission’s request for voter records, even in states where like in Colorado most of the record is publicly available data, Williams’ office sent a out a cheery release in response to the request about how Colorado was cooperating like they would with anybody. This severe misreading of the politics of the situation resulted in a disproportionate backlash, and Williams essentially taking the fall in Colorado for this extremely unpopular and now defunct federal commission.
With all of this in mind, the question becomes whether Williams’ challenger Jena Griswold, who started slow but has built a formidable campaign with good organization and cash flow, can make Williams’ lower-key troubles stick. Democrats have had notoriously bad luck with sub-gubernatorial statewide elected offices in recent years, but as we say with just about every race, conventional wisdom is scrambled this year.
Democrats could sweep the downballot offices, or win none of them. But the SoS race is definitely in play.