HAT-GATE: SoS Williams Beats The High Cost Of Living Large

Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R).

The Denver Post’s Ben Botkin breaks news today that could spell big trouble for incumbent Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who is facing an unexpectedly stout challenge from Democratic election lawyer Jena Griswold. Readers will recall a major scandal that erupted in the latter part of former SoS Scott Gessler’s single term, in which Gessler was found at length by the state’s Independent Ethics Commission to have improperly spent funds from an office account on travel to partisan political events. The scandal, among other things, helped scuttle Gessler’s 2014 gubernatorial aspirations.

As the Denver Post reports today, the same office “slush fund” appears to have been improperly tapped by current Secretary of State Wayne Williams:

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams wears a $475 cowboy hat to Denver Rustlers events. He wore $349.80 tuxedo pants and $699.60 dress boots to a cybersecurity conference in 2015.

These expenses are public information because Williams charged them to his state office. He paid for them out of the office’s $5,000 discretionary fund, an annual perk enshrined in state law…

The cowboy attire is tied to Williams’ involvement with the Denver Rustlers, a nonprofit that raises money for youth exhibitors at the Colorado State Fair Champion Junior Livestock Sale. A tradition since 1984, the nonprofit’s participants include civic leaders and government officials from both parties.

As was thoroughly explored during the ethics investigation into Gessler’s misuse of the same discretionary account, officials do have quite a bit of leeway when it comes to how these funds are spent. The law governing these discretionary accounts says only that the funds must be used “in pursuance of official business.” Gessler ran into trouble for using these funds to help cover the costs of partisan political activities.

For Wayne Williams, it’s a more straightforward problem.

He bought himself a pair of $700 boots and a $500 cowboy hat.

And yes, Williams through his deputy Suzanne Staiert claims that he somehow bought these items “in pursuance of official business” as the law requires. Apparently the $700 boots were mission-critical for a cybersecurity conference attended. And really, folks, what self-respecting Colorado Republican is going to show up to Larry Mizel’s annual bow-and-scrape party at the Colorado State Fair without a $500 cowboy hat?!

Back in reality, of course, this is very bad news for Wayne Williams at what could be the worst possible moment. This is such a stupid and unnecessary mistake to make, however, that it’s very hard to be sympathetic. Where Gessler at least had a case to make that he was on some official business during the travel he was busted by the IEC for, nobody is going to give Williams a pass for buying $700 boots and a $500 hat with taxpayer dollars under any circumstances. Not the IEC, and definitely not any voter who hears about this.

$700 is a lot for boots, but they could end up costing Wayne Williams far more in the end.

18 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. bullshit! says:

    Damn Wayne that was just stupid. And who the hell needs a $500 cowboy hat? I can't believe any hat costs that much.

  2. It might not be all hat, but it's certainly a lot of hat.

  3. JohnInDenver says:

    Don't we pay people to give mandatory ethics classes to state employees? Do they take attendance?

    As Secretary of State, perhaps Williams needed the hat and boots to equip himself to round up voters?  Maybe they are simply office "investments." He'll sign the brim and an inside flap of the boot, and auction them off?

    Isn't Williams making enough from his side gig as an attorney or from being hired to lecture about Secretary of State stuff to buy his own boots?


  4. The realist says:

    Just one question – when he leaves them behind, will they fit Jena Griswold?!!

  5. mamajama55 says:

    In fairness to Williams, he does have a really big head and big feet, and probably needs custom garments. Which he should pay for with his own big bank account, since he supplements his  Sec State work with private legal consulting.

    Now when I look at the rest of the crowd in those cheesy fake-cowboy shirts and hats at the Denver Rustlers event, I wonder who else paid for them out of pocket, and who charged the taxpayer. John Hickenlooper? Michael Hancock? Cynthia Coffman? Jared Polis? Phil Weiser? Walker Stapleton?

    There are pictures of all of the above in the Rustlers archives. Many of them appear to be wearing the same generic perforated straw cowboy hat, which says that the event actually provides hats. Wayno and Staplegun have nice, expensive hats.

  6. notaskinnycook says:

    Looks like the event planners sprang for the shirts, too. What are those critters embroidered on them?

    • mamajama55 says:

      I'm thinking a Dr. Seuss critter. Possibly a lorax. (He speaks for the trees).

      It's not a bad organization – the Rustlers event fundraises for scholarships for farm kids who raise animals. I have students who would benefit from it.

      But somehow the Rustlers event got to be de rigeur for politicians of all stripes to show that they are "in touch with rural issues".  It's where Ken Buck goes when he wants to get a little bullshit on his $800 boots.

  7. allyncooper says:

    These boots are made for walkin…….

  8. Moderatus says:

    Not the smartest choice optically, but the funds are discretionary. Would he have gone to these events if he wasn't Secretary of State? If not, the spending was proper.

    • JohnInDenver says:

      Really? You are an ethics maven, too?

      As Secretary of State, he needs to go to the office every now and then, too. Would it be ethical for him to use the official discretionary fund pay for a suit and shiny shoes?

      What makes you think the Rustlers outing to the State Fair is a duty of the Secretary of State?

      When the organizers of the Rustlers provide a shirt and a hat, why does Wayne Williams need to pop for another $475 hat?

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