These Colorado Republicans Are Pushing the Limits of Anti-Immigrant and Race-Baiting Rhetoric

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Walker Stapleton endorser Tom Tancredo has partnered with State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) and his son Joe Neville to promote political messaging that reflects the anti-immigrant rhetoric of President Trump and pushes the limits of  limits of inflammatory and race-baiting statements. 

The new Tancredo-fronted group, Citizens for Secure Borders, claims to be “dedicated to providing the public with information regarding key issues related to preserving and promoting the safety and security of the public.” The group’s 501(c)4 articles of incorporation lists the home of Sen. Neville as its “principal office street address.” Its three board members are Joe Neville and two of his employees at consulting firm Rearden Strategic. Both Aaron Yates and Brandon Wark, like Joe Neville himself, are former employees of Dudley Brown’s right-wing gun rights advocacy groups, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners & National Association of Gun Rights. 


What Else is Walker Stapleton Hiding?

Walker Stapleton

If you missed this story from the Colorado Independent last week, you almost certainly weren’t alone; publishing a story on a Friday afternoon before a three-day Holiday weekend is the news equivalent of throwing rocks at the sun. But just because the story might have gotten lost doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

As Corey Hutchins reports for the Independent, State Treasurer and Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton has not been very open with his financial disclosures:

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton will be amending a financial disclosure form he filed with the state as part of his run for governor after The Colorado Independent questioned why the blind trust he said holds his assets was not listed on the form.

“We are filing a clarification,” said Stapleton’s campaign manager Michael Fortney following inquiries about the public document, which is called a personal financial disclosure statement and is required by candidates for state office in Colorado.

In question is Rocky Mountain Trust LLC, which incorporated after Stapleton, a political newcomer at the time, won office as state treasurer in 2010. Stapleton has said Rocky Mountain Trust is a “blind trust” – a tool some elected officials and others use to avoid potential conflicts of interest in their investments. The arrangements vary. In some blind trusts, the person who owns the assets is totally blind to what investments the trust holds. In others, they know what assets are, but are not involved with managing or making decisions about them.

We noted last week that Stapleton is less-than-enthusiastic about disclosing his tax returns, which is something that has long been a common practice for candidates seeking the top office in Colorado. The existence of Stapleton’s “blind trust” was announced by Stapleton himself in a recent interview with the Independent, though he initially balked at the idea of disclosing any information about the trust.

The reason you should care about any of this is that statewide politicians in Colorado are required to disclose personal financial interests that may conflict with their duties in elected office. This is something that Stapleton appears to understand, even as he withholds some of that information:

Stapleton told The Colorado Independent the reason he set up a trust in 2012 is that reporters questioned whether business he did with the bank Wells Fargo, which is a vendor of the state, would be a conflict as treasurer who would be in charge of choosing public financing firms for, say, a bond offering.

“In order to avoid any conflict of interest, a blind trust was the best thing that made sense,” he said.

Can you really have a “blind trust” if you know what’s included in the trust? That’s not a rhetorical question.

Walker Stapleton Just Makes Stuff Up (MMJ Edition)

Walker Stapleton.

Ed Sealover at the Denver Business Journal released an overall fawning profile of GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Walker Stapleton earlier today. Given Stapleton’s solidifying reputation for making stuff up on the campaign trail, any such profile is likely to contain an item or two in need of correction, whether or not the reporter catches it–and the latest example wasn’t hard to find:

One significant policy change Stapleton would seek would be a crackdown on the roughly 150,000 state residents who still carry medical-marijuana cards, which allows them tax-free purchasing of the drug, the ability to grow their own plants and the ability to consume the weed at age 18. Moving all but medically necessary card holders into purchasing legalized retail marijuana would increase state tax revenues on the drug by two to three times and ensure that they couldn’t distribute home-grown cannabis to friends, creating a new stream of revenue for transportation and other needs, he said.

Which sounds good except, as medical marijuana advocates quickly pointed out:

That’s right, folks! The state of Colorado has never had 150,000 medical marijuana cardholders, and since the passage of Amendment 64 legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012, the number of patients on the state’s medical marijuana registry has steadily declined. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s latest report on Medical Marijuana Registry Program, in April of 2018 there were a total of 88,946 Coloradans with an active medical marijuana card.

For those of you lacking a handy calculator, that’s 59.3% of Stapleton’s claim.

Obviously this has a big negative impact on the utility of Stapleton’s proposed “crackdown” on the medical marijuana registry, since the amount of revenue that could be extracted from medical marijuana patients who were “cracked down on” is directly proportional to the total number of such individuals. Because there have never once been the number of people with medical marijuana “red cards” that Stapleton asserted “still carry” them, we really have no idea how to reconcile this discrepancy.

Unless we already did, in the title of this post.

Debate Diary: Republican Candidates for Governor

The 2018 Primary election is five weeks from today. Ballots will start arriving in mailboxes in about two weeks. You know what that means…

…It’s “Debate Diary” time!

On Saturday, May 19, candidates for Governor met at the Garden Pavilion at Penrose House in Colorado Springs for a debate sponsored by the Colorado Springs Gazette, the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman, and El Pomar’s Forum for Civic Advancement. Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor participated in separate discussions, which served as the center point of the inaugural and (hopefully) annual Colorado Civic Barbecue.

We went back through the video of Saturday’s debate (thanks, KKTV!) for another of our world-famous debate diaries. Up first: the Republican field of candidates for Governor.

Let’s get ready to mumbllleeee…

*NOTE: When we do our “live” Debate Diaries, we normally list the most current update at the top of the page. But because we’re posting this entire Debate Diary at once, it makes more sense to write it out chronologically from the top-down; we’ll break out segments according to the timestamps provided by KKTV in order to make it easier for you to track down specific clips. As always, unless it is in direct quotes, consider all statements paraphrased in the interest of time and/or the prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome.  



Lynne, Lopez, Stapleton Say To Hell With Transparency

Walker Stapleton.

A story from the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins today documents a considerable break with the longstanding practice of Colorado gubernatorial candidates releasing their tax returns for public scrutiny:

“I don’t think it’s appropriate. I don’t think it’s relevant,” said Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, when asked if she would release the past three years of her tax filings for public view. “I don’t know what relevance it is in a gubernatorial election,” she said.

Before becoming the state’s second-in-command, Lynne, a first-time candidate, was an executive vice president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. She has put $100,000 of her own money into her campaign so far, and was the only candidate who flat-out said she wouldn’t release her taxes when asked by The Colorado Independent.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez apparently agrees:

Republican Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker, said he would have to think about whether to allow a reporter to inspect his tax returns, but also expressed skepticism. “For what purpose?” he asked. “I can understand at the presidential level, but we’re talking about the state level here. So I don’t really know that that really impacts the decisions of voters.”

And finally, GOP fruntrunner Walker Stapleton gets so dodgy about it it’s almost comical:

“I’m happy to release my tax returns but not from what’s in the blind trust because that violates the spirit of setting up the trust to begin with,” Stapleton said in an interview. A Stapleton spokesman jumped in to add that the campaign isn’t prepared to say what it would and wouldn’t release. Stapleton, who has trained most of his fire on Polis throughout his campaign, said he is not interested in seeing what’s in his rival’s returns. Responding to the idea that releasing tax returns before an election could illuminate something important, Stapleton said, “I think that’s stupid and dumb and the only people that care about that are political enemies trying to savage somebody for something.”

Beyond his state income from the treasurer’s office, Stapleton said he has “a lot” of passive business investments that are managed by others. “Do I have alternate sources of income? You bet I do,” he said. [Pols emphasis]

The rest of the major gubernatorial candidates in both parties were generally in support of releasing their tax returns. Jared Polis, the wealthiest candidate in the race by far, says he’ll be happy to do so as long as the other candidates in the Democratic primary do as well. That’s because for many years, the release of tax returns by gubernatorial candidates has been a routine practice. In 2014, both Gov. John Hickenlooper and his opponent Bob Beauprez released theirs. The last time we can remember a gubernatorial candidate refusing to release their tax returns was back in 2010, when ill-fated GOP candidate Scott McInnis earned the wrath of the Denver Post:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis has refused to release his tax returns, a position that breaks from routine campaign practices in Colorado and nationally…

Media outlets routinely request tax returns from candidates because they reveal more than mere income: They show sources of income and potential conflicts of interest, charitable giving, the use of tax shelters, how candidates manage their own money and how their tax rates compare with the average taxpayer’s.

Open-government advocates say it’s especially important that wealthy candidates, who usually have a multitude of investments, be forthcoming with their taxes. [Pols emphasis]

Make no mistake, the refusal of these candidates to participate in a longstanding and uncontroversial disclosure is a very serious breach of trust and longstanding tradition. In the case of Donna Lynne, this nonchalant dismissal of the need to disclose basic financial information should be disqualifying–though with her campaign stuck in single digits anyway, it’s doubtful that will ever be put to the test.

Walker Stapleton, on the other hand, is the Republican frontrunner. It’s been no secret since Stapleton’s election that his financial footprint is extensive and poorly documented. Being shady about one’s finances might slip under the radar in lower elected offices, but a candidate for the state’s highest office has an obligation to demonstrate that he has no disqualifying conflicts of interest.

Instead, Walker Stapleton brags about his undisclosed “alternate sources of income.”

That is not cool. We can only hope there is some outrage to spare for it.

Stapleton Blows Friendliest School Safety Interview Ever

Heads are spinning this morning over an interview of Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton on the Fox News Channel in response to yesterday’s tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas–an interview in which Stapleton showed himself to be painfully unprepared to discuss one of the nation’s most critical issues:

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

The interview begins with the host–we don’t know his name given all the turnover at Fox News recently–asking Stapleton what he would do to improve school security. Stapleton responds with a call (see Tweet) for an “armed public safety official in all our schools.” That sounds fine, except when you realize there was an armed officer at yesterday’s shooting. Just like there was at nearly all of these shootings including Columbine.

This is like “showing leadership” by calling for all automobiles to have brakes.

But then at about 40 seconds into the clip, it gets much worse:

ANCHOR: Would you go as far as Governor Scott did in Florida with his state legislature?

STAPLETON: Uh, I-I I don’t know, how how, I don’t really know about Governor Scott’s, uh what measures Governor Scott took in Florida, [Pols emphasis] but I uh would go as far as to have the state of Colorado make sure that we have a single point of entry, metal detectors, public safety officials who are armed at every school…

ANCHOR: Well here hold on, I’ll help you–I’ll help you with what Governor Scott did, three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raising the minimum age to buy those weapons to 21, banning possession of bump stocks, which uh can make semiautomatic weapons fire like an automatic weapon. Are you good with those?

STAPLETON: I think, Nah, I think bump stocks is a federal issue with the ATF that actually was passed during the Obama years, so that’s not really a state issue.

ANCHOR: So, a three day waiting period or raise the age to 21?

STAPLETON: I, ah, no. I don’t think that those are practical steps…

Let’s break this down. You have the leading Republican candidate for governor of Colorado on national cable news to talk about school shootings, and he didn’t even do any research about what the Republican governor of Florida Rick Scott did in response to the previous major school shooting incident in that state. Once the obliging Fox News anchor recites all of the steps Florida took after the Parkland shooting, Stapleton declares that none of them are good ideas. Stapleton even dodges the question of bump stocks by blaming them on “the Obama years” without ever even saying clearly they should be banned. But by this time, it’s clear to everyone watching that Stapleton doesn’t know what he’s talking about–so who cares what he thinks?

If you’re among the nearly-unanimous American public and even majority of Republican voters who agree that we can and must do more to prevent gun violence, this interview was a horrifying display of incompetence thinly concealed by outdated talking points. If you’re one of the diehard gun-rights supporters Stapleton was pandering to in this interview, you should be just as horrified that someone with so little knowledge about this issue wants to be the governor of a gun-rights battleground like Colorado.

Either way, it’s quite a thing to witness again just how bad Walker Stapleton is at this.

Walker Stapleton Has a PERA Problem

Walker Stapleton

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton still appears to be the frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination with less than six weeks to go until the June 26th Primary, but the wheels are coming off when it comes to Stapleton’s signature issue of PERA reform.

As Blair Miller explains in a detailed story for Denver7, Stapleton has talked himself into quite a corner here:

The pension became the centerpiece of discussions during this year’s legislature, buoyed by rallies by Colorado teachers who demanded fixes to the system in addition to better pay and school funding.

Yet after a last-minute deal in the legislature to try to shore up the system, some in Colorado are questioning how much Stapleton was involved in the PERA discussions this year, while others who were more closely involved say Stapleton’s work backs up his talk…

…in a speech last weekend made to El Paso County Republicans, Stapleton said the legislative measure “shored up” PERA for the time being.

“I have been the longest, largest, loudest voice for reforming PERA, and as a result of Republican leadership, we have shored up that system for 500,000 public workers in the state of Colorado,” he said, according to a video recording obtained by Denver7. [Pols emphasis].

First off, it is a pretty big mistake for Stapleton to publicly say that PERA has been “shored up” by the legislature. Stapleton has spent the last eight years trying to convince voters of his PERA expertise; if he is admitting that PERA reform is no longer a critical problem, then Stapleton needs a new shtick for the General Election.

On the other hand, Stapleton might be better off not talking about PERA anymore. He could have tried to take credit for legislative reforms, for example, but this Denver7 story indicates that he was encouraging lawmakers to oppose the measure — when he bothered to engage at all:

Also last week, one of Stapleton’s political opponents in the gubernatorial race, Republican Doug Robinson, told a gathering in Elizabeth that Stapleton didn’t attend a May 3 emergency PERA board meeting that took place ahead of the deal or take part in legislative talks…

…”Walker’s hung his hat on being “the loudest voice on PERA”, but at the end of eight years, what does he (or the taxpayers) have to show for it?” the spokesperson said in a statement to Denver7. “He’s barely even shown up for the meetings. Let’s just call a spade a spade — Walker’s only real interest in PERA is in its ability to serve as a talking point for his political ambitions.”…

…When asked to respond to the accusations made against Stapleton, a campaign spokesperson who agreed to speak on the condition they not be named admitted that Stapleton did not attend the May 3 PERA board meeting, but said a deputy called in to the meeting. The spokesperson said that wasn’t out of the ordinary, which one of the sources Denver7 spoke with confirmed.

And though another group that has focused on PERA’s liabilities and opposed Stapleton’s work on PERA in the past, Secure PERA, found that Stapleton attended 53 percent of board meetings from 2011 through 2016, a Denver7 review of board meeting minutes from 2017 show that Stapleton attended eight of the nine meetings that year, missing only one on the first day of a three-day retreat.

Stapleton’s intermittent attendance at PERA board meetings is not a new revelation, though it boggles the mind that he has continued to make it so easy for opponents to attack him on an issue he has been screaming about for years. If he does win the Republican nomination for Governor and tries to keep PERA reform as a top issue, Stapleton will also have to explain why he has been ignoring one of PERA’s biggest problems — the hundreds of millions of dollars being siphoned off by Wall Street fund managers for financial advice that consistently underperforms benchmarks.

Stapleton’s campaign website says that he “will bring the same persistence in fighting for economic reform to the Governor’s office as I have shown as Treasurer.” He has a tough task ahead of him convincing voters that this is a good thing.

Tell Walker Stapleton: pull your false ad off the air now

It seems like every election year, the lying in politics gets worse. 2018 looks to be no exception.

This week, 9NEWS conducted a Truth Test of Walker Stapleton’s new ad, in which Stapleton repeatedly boasts about his support for Donald Trump and claims to have single-handedly stopped a multitude of tax increases. The problem is, just about everything Stapleton says in this ad is either false or wildly exaggerated. [1]

Stapleton is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to saturate the airwaves with blatant lies. There’s only one way to stop the falsehoods in politics, and that’s to make sure every voter understands who is lying to them and why. If we want Walker Stapleton to stop lying, and everyone should, we have to tell him loud and clear that this is not acceptable.

Sign our petition right now: tell Walker Stapleton to pull his false ad off the air immediately. Don’t wait for a criminal complaint or another damning news fact check. Do the right thing now, take the ad down, and apologize for deliberately trying to mislead the voters of Colorado.

We’ll deliver your names and comments to Stapleton’s campaign, the press, and other elected officials.

Thanks for your timely support for truth in politics. We can’t think of anything more important, especially these days.

More Bad News for Walker Stapleton

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton

The folks over at 9News picked up on the falsehoods in Republican Walker Stapleton’s first TV ad in the race for Governor — something we first pointed out on Tuesday.

Brandon Rittiman and Anna Staver break down Stapleton’s ad in their latest “Truth Test“:

CLAIM: “I was the only treasurer in the country with the courage to support Donald Trump’s tax cuts. “


Walker is one of 31 Republican state treasurers across the country and many of them supported Trump’s tax plan.

The treasurers of Kentucky and Utah both penned opinion pieces in favor of federal tax reform.

And the treasurers of Idaho and Missouri traveled to Washington D.C. to talk about tax reform with the president’s team while the bill was being debated in Congress.

‘We held a press conference just outside the west wing in support of the tax bill,” Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane said. “It had just passed the [U.S. House of Representatives], so we were very excited about that and very supportive.”

Crane even got a shout out on Twitter for his work on tax reform from Oklahoma’s treasurer.

9NEWS asked the Stapleton campaign how it justified the claim in its ad, and they pointed to one White House press release from December where he’s the only state treasurer quoted on a long list of supporters. [Pols emphasis]

That response from Stapleton’s campaign is an absolute gem. This one time, in a press release…

Stapleton is never going to come across particularly well in television ads because of his general awkwardness, but his campaign isn’t doing him any favors by making him trot out lines that are easily disproven. Stapleton’s camp even used this “only treasurer in the country” line as part of its email introduction of the TV spot. Anybody with access to the Internet could have fact-checked this claim in a matter of minutes (it took us about three minutes in total).

We’ll leave the last word here to 9News in their summation of Stapleton’s ad:

In the name of making himself seem like the most courageous voice on all of them, this ad is writing checks his record can’t cash.

Making Walker Stapleton (Slightly) Less Awkward

It’s no secret among anyone who has witnessed Colorado Treasurer and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton speak publicly that he is…well, public speaking is not Stapleton’s strongest asset by a long shot. One of the more memorable examples of Stapleton looking highly uncomfortable in front of an audience occurred last month when he announced that his ballot petitions were riddled with fraud:

Yikes! Stapleton needed some coaching that day, and as you can see he didn’t get it.

But truth be told, Stapleton’s awkward on-camera gesticulations have been cracking us up for years. Back in 2014 we took note of the striking resemblance between Stapleton’s body language in a campaign ad and that of famous Denver-area automobile hustler Dealin’ Doug Moreland:

A campaign ad is about as scripted a moment as one could ever expect, so we have to assume that somebody actually thought that gesture would inspire positive feelings about Stapleton. Or failing that, at least move the conversation further along to discovering what Walker needs to do to put you in that new car today!

But in Stapleton’s new campaign ad out this week, it does appear his image consultants have figured out a way to cope.

By making Walker Stapleton jam his hands into his pockets.

Is that really less awkward? Not so much! But fewer people will mistake him for that car salesman.

Walker Stapleton’s First Campaign Ad is Wrong

Walker Stapleton

Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton released his first television ad of the 2018 cycle, which the campaign titled, “Courage.” Stapleton’s TV spot could have also been called, “Fabrications,” but that wouldn’t have sounded quite as cool.

As Ernest Luning reports for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman, Stapleton’s first TV spot is backed by a $700,000 buy targeting Republican Primary voters:

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence smile and wave as they briefly cross the screen. Stapleton brings up two key issues for Trump supporters — the Republican tax reform bill and so-called sanctuary cities.

“I was the only (state) treasurer in the country with the courage to support Donald Trump’s tax cuts [Pols emphasis], and as your next governor, I’ll end these dangerous sanctuary city policies. I’ll take the fight to the liberals and beat ’em again,” Stapleton says.

We wondered about this line — “the only treasurer in the country” — as soon as we saw the ad, so we decided to check it out ourselves. As Jason Taylor reported for, Missouri State Treasurer Eric Schmitt traveled to Washington D.C. in support of the Republican tax plan last November.

In other words, Stapleton was most certainly NOT “the only treasurer in the country with the courage to support Donald Trump’s tax cuts.” It took us about three minutes to figure this out. We didn’t bother looking to see how many other State Treasurers supported the GOP tax plan because it only took one to disprove Stapleton’s claim.

You can watch Stapleton’s courageously false TV ad below:

Walker Stapleton Once Praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee as a “Great American”

(So…much…wrong with this – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

In a 2009 appearance on KNUS radio, Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Walker Stapleton praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee, calling him a “great American.”

Stapleton, who currently serves as Colorado’s treasurer and has yet to address community concerns about his family’s white supremacist history, added, “He just happened to be for the wrong cause and on the wrong side.”

Lee, who commanded the Confederate army, is responsible for an unfathomable amount of American bloodshed in defense of what he saw as the South’s right to own black human beings as property. Stapleton’s description of Lee as a “great American” runs counter to the fact that Lee’s loyalty to his country was overridden by his devotion to white supremacy.

Over the past year, statues commemorating some of the nation’s most influential white supremacists, including those depicting Lee, have been a source of controversy – and the sites of racially motivated violence.

As you might recall, the so-called Unite the Right rally that took place in Charlottesville late last summer, where white supremacists chanted Nazi-era slogans and murdered a peaceful counter-protester, was centered around opposition to the removal of the city’s monument to Lee.

Stapleton’s comment, of course, came years before the nation’s popular debate around whether statues commemorating racists belong in public areas. But it could be instructive of the gubernatorial candidate’s understanding of racism in America and dedication to policies that promote racial equity – or lack thereof.

Stapleton’s praise of the well-known racist isn’t a one-off.


The Real PERA Problem is Getting Ignored

State lawmakers are rushing to finish up a number of bills before Wednesday’s final day of the 2018 legislative session. At the top of the list is legislation to make changes to PERA (the Public Employees Retirement Association), the state pension system that includes more than 500,000 Coloradans among its members. Legislators from the House and Senate are currently trying to work out a compromise on SB-200, but there are serious differences of opinion on issues such as raising contributions and limiting cost-of-living adjustments for beneficiaries.

The weakening of retirement benefits has been a significant pain point for teachers across the country, from Kentucky to Arizona and here in Colorado. Reforming PERA is also emerging as a major issue in the 2018 race for Governor, particularly on the Republican side; State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has long made PERA reform a signature issue (when he bothers to show up, of course).

“Many institutions pay substantial sums to consultants who, in turn, recommend high-fee managers. And that is a fool’s game…

…Most advisors, however, are far better at generating high fees than they are at generating high returns.”

— Warren Buffet

Most of the discussions around PERA funding have revolved around whether to increase contributions from employees and/or the state, but as David Sirota reports for Westword, there is a gigantic elephant in the room that has yet to be addressed: PERA is paying Wall Street investing firms more than a billion dollars in fees for managing portfolios that are consistently underperforming their benchmarks — which means PERA hasn’t even been keeping up with the stock market.

Sirota’s story is thick with detail but well worth the read:

Ask legislators at the Colorado State Capitol if they’ve even heard about the $1 billion of investment fees that the state’s pension system paid out to external money managers between 2009 and 2016, and you will get blank stares. Ask them if they realize those are only the fees that are disclosed — and that there are likely hundreds of millions of dollars of additional fees being paid — and they will express disbelief. Ask them if they know that state officials passed legislation — written by the financial industry — barring the details of the fee terms from being revealed to the public, and you will elicit outrage.

This is a little-discussed reality at PERA — just as it is at many retirement systems across the country. And lately PERA has moved to funnel even more money into an opaque fund that is a mishmash of exotic investments from timberland to hedge funds — and has generated ever-higher fees while trailing the broader stock market…

…In nearly every state with revenue shortfalls, the political debate over pension reform primarily revolves around proposals to cut workers’ benefits — while ever-larger payouts to financial firms are considered sacrosanct and kept hidden from view.

As Sirota explains, PERA’s problem isn’t just that it holds underperforming “alternative” investments (including private equity, real estate, and hedge funds), but that hundreds of millions of dollars are being paid in “fees” to Wall Street brokers to manage these middling returns. We don’t know exact numbers on how much money is being paid in fees because an obscure piece of legislation from 2004k keeps everything hidden:

Colorado’s two-paragraph legislation gave PERA the right to hide all information about private equity, debt and timber investments if pension trustees determined that “disclosure of such information would jeopardize the value of the investment.”

Detailed financial information on management fees is not, and cannot, be disclosed by PERA. What we know about these fees is based only on a snapshot of data provided by PERA. For example:

Between 2009 and 2016, PERA disclosed spending roughly $1.2 billion to manage all of its investments. More than two-thirds of those expenses were fees paid to firms managing money in the private equity, hedge fund and Opportunity Fund portfolios, even though those managers only oversaw roughly 20 percent of the state’s overall investments. 

… In its 2016 annual report, PERA reported an 8.5 percent return over the most recent five years — but even that has trailed a traditional Vanguard fund, and it also trailed at least one of its peers in the Intermountain West. Nevada’s public pension system, which is 12 percent smaller than PERA and has far less exposure to private equity and real estate, earned a 9.1 percent return during the same five-year period. That outperformance came at a cheaper cost: Nevada paid 75 percent less in fees than did Colorado, paying half a billion dollars less to Wall Street than PERA did.

The numbers that are available from PERA don’t provide a lot of confidence. For example, take a look at PERA’s Annualized Rate of Return over the last decade (outlined in PERA’s 2016 annual report): PERA shows a return of 5.2%, while the median public pension system in the U.S. saw a return of 5.5%. During that same time period, Vanguard’s low-fee Balanced Index Fund (60% stocks and 40% bonds) generated annualized returns of 6.4%.

Again, you really should read the entire Westword story in order to understand the full depth of the problem here. It would appear that PERA can make great strides in its bottom line by changing its investments andaddressing the hundreds of millions in fees being paid out to Wall Street for what seems to be pretty terrible advice. This probably won’t be enough to fix PERA’s financial problems entirely, but the burden for reform shouldn’t be felt by PERA members alone.

Where’s Walker? Stapleton Absent from Big PERA Meeting

Reforming PERA (the Public Employees’ Retirement Association) has always been a top issue for State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who is also the current frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Stapleton is a member of the PERA Board of Trustees, and despite his professed interest in PERA reform, his overall involvement in reform — as well as his attendance at board meetings — has been consistently spotty over the last eight years.

On Thursday, the PERA Board held a special meeting to discuss a critical piece of legislation that is being worked out in a legislative conference committee. Guess who didn’t show up?

Stapleton has never been particularly good about showing up for work since he was elected Treasurer in 2010. His attendance record at PERA Board meetings is particularly abysmal, and despite his regular rants on PERA reform, Stapleton doesn’t really dispute his lack of involvement in the actual details on the issue. On Thursday, Stapleton didn’t even bother sending a representative from his office to the PERA meeting (although this might actually make some sense, given that he had to fire Deputy Treasurer Jon Forbes last summer after Forbes loudly told the rest of the PERA Board to “go f*** themselves”).

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton

Stapleton’s opponents in the Republican Primary for Governor have taken notice of his vapid rantings. Check out what Doug Robinson (Mitt Romney’s Nephew) said on “The Get More Smarter Show” two weeks ago:

I’m tired of the talk. I’m tired of people saying they’ve been a voice on this issue or that issue. Yet, you’ve been on the board for seven years and it’s not done. The problem is bigger today that it was before…

I’m upset about this. In remember in 2010, PERA was in a big crisis and they said they made changes and they fixed it. And now it’s almost double the liability that it was at that time, and the stock market has more than doubled during that time.

So where was Stapleton last night instead of attending a special PERA meeting? We’ll update this story as we learn more about Stapleton’s absence. Hopefully it wasn’t just because of a rainy night in Denver.

Walker Stapleton on commuting in the rain: “I might as well stay in bed”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Daily commutes are a grind, especially in lousy weather. Most of us, though, still grit our teeth, grab a jacket and get behind the wheel. State Treasurer Walker Stapleton? He hits the snooze button.

Earlier this year, Stapleton, who hopes to become the Republican nominee for governor, told a local conservative group that his commute from Greenwood Village to the State Capitol is so bad when it’s raining or snowing that he doesn’t bother getting out of bed.

I live in, uh, south of the city and my commute used to be a reliable fifteen minutes. Now it’s a reliable 45 minutes. And if there’s rain or snow, I might as well stay in bed for an extra hour or hang out at home, because I’m not going to get to work.

According to Google Maps, Stapleton’s commute from his house in the ritzy suburb he was unwilling to name, is about 13 miles. His 45-minute estimate puts him just a minute under the average Denver metro commute according to an October 2017 study conducted by staffing firm Robert Half. The company surveyed 2700 workers, though it is unknown whether they factored in those who decide to sleep in rather than face raindrops.

Stapleton’s disinclination for damp driving may explain accusations of absenteeism that have dogged him throughout the years. A 2014 campaign ad noted a pattern of late arrivals and frequent absences based on his Capitol key card records.

Official key-card records from his Denver office confirm Stapleton only bothers showing up at his office around 10 days a month, often, skipping the office for weeks at a time, or only showing up after 3 p.m.

That claim was denied by his campaign manager, who said Stapleton often forgets his key card and therefore is forced to use the public entrance where records aren’t kept.

Official attendance records again also caused trouble for the Treasurer when it came to his favorite topic: Public Employee Retirement Association meetings. Meeting minutes from 2012 – 2014 showed Stapleton showing up for only eight of 21 meetings.

The PERA board also held a meeting yesterday, May 3. According to journalist David Sirota, Stapleton didn’t show up. We don’t know why he wasn’t there, but we do know it was raining all day long.