Denverite’s Esteban Hernandez updates a story we’ve been following for a couple of weeks now since it originally appeared in the Denver Post–Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ purchase of expensive Western clothing on his office’s taxpayer-funded discretionary spending account is now the subject of a complaint pending before the state Independent Ethics Commssion:
Secretary of State Wayne Williams is facing an ethics complaint related to his use of state discretionary funds to buy items including $327 boot-cut jeans and paying for attorney registration fees…
Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said in a statement to Denverite on Monday morning that the office had not received a copy of the complaint. She said the information about Williams’ spending in “has been public for years” and was “the subject of a records request by Colorado Ethics Watch in 2016 and has also been through a state audit.”
“Nobody filed a complaint then,” Staiert said. “The fact that someone is now filing, well past the one-year statute of limitations, is a reflection of the current political climate. This is about trying to keep this issue in the press and detract from the good work Secretary Williams has done over the past four years.”
The defense being offered in this case by Williams’ staff is kind of bizarre. Rather than disputing the impropriety of this obviously inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars, Williams is simply asserting that a now-defunct liberal group requested information about this spending and didn’t sound the alarm. We have no idea what may have prompted that decision, but it doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the allegation in the present at all. This is what you tell fellow political water-cooler types when you’ve stepped into scandal, not voters. To not understand this is a cardinal PR mistake.
When compared to the similar ethics case against Williams’ predecessor Scott Gessler, who was found to have misused the same office discretionary account to pay for travel to partisan political events, Williams’ use of these funds to buy expensive clothing for his personal use is of course much worse. Gessler’s ethics troubles played a significant role in his loss of the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2014, and Gessler’s unsuccessful legal actions to reverse the Commission’s decision only make Williams’ misuse of discretionary funds stand out all the more. It’s very unlikely based on the facts as reported that the IEC will refuse this complaint when it comes up for review on November 19th.
That means Williams either opens his second term under a cloud, or he loses next Tuesday and answers to the IEC as a private citizen. It’s difficult to predict the outcome of this downballot race, but we’re pretty sure that voters who hear the story of the $700 boots, $375 jeans, and $500 hat they paid for are going to have a hard time shading Williams’ bubble.
If Williams does lose, this extremely stupid thing that nobody made him do will factor heavily.