What’s Your Favorite Blue Wave Win?

This week’s historic victory for Colorado Democrats leaves in its wake innumerable stories of hard work and triumph. There are so many big markers for the history books, like the first gay man elected governor of any state, the sweep of downballot statewide offices, recapturing the Colorado Senate after four years at the mercy of a one-seat GOP majority, the come-from-behind wins growing the Democratic House majority to unexpected heights, major Democratic wins in suburban Denver local governments–we could go on and on, and over the next few weeks we’ll be expounding at length on what this all means.

Use this thread to tell us about the 2018 success stories you were close to, or enjoyed reading about, or anything else you found inspiring coming out of the midterm elections in our state. Before the inevitable plunge back into partisan squabbles and pundit second-guessing, take a moment to contemplate significance of what we’ve just been through.

You earned this moment, Colorado.

Get More Smarter: The Big Predictions Thread

With the 2018 elections wrapping up today, here’s our master list of official predictions on the outcome in Colorado. If you’re looking for national predictions, we suggest FiveThirtyEight or your choice of outlets focused on the national map. For the next 24 hours, we’re focused exclusively on the home front.

With that in mind, please refer to this list as you roast your hosts on Wednesday for everything we get wrong:

Governor: Jared Polis will handily win the race for governor. Our previous forecasts had held the prediction of Polis’ win margin below 10% citing a number of factors, but over the past few weeks the climate has only improved for Democrats in Colorado and ballot returns echo this growing confidence. A double-digit Polis win is now a real possibility.

CD-6: After years of trying, Democrats harpoon the proverbial white whale and bring incumbent GOP Rep. Mike Coffman down. Coffman’s ticket-splitting survival strategy of triangulation off his own party was confounded by Donald Trump’s election, and he has been unable to maintain the illusory separation from the GOP brand that kept him in office in a district unsupportive of conservative Republican politics.

CD-3: Despite a spirited campaign by state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, recent polling and anecdotes from the field suggest that incumbent GOP Rep. Scott Tipton will retain his seat and thus serve as the Republican Party’s firewall in Colorado for 2018. This race is a good barometer of the size of a potential “Blue Wave” nationally; if Tipton loses, that means Democrats are wiping out Republicans everywhere.

Colorado House: Democrats are poised to gain seats in the chamber they already control by a comfortable margin.

Colorado Senate: Republicans have poured at least $10 million into preserving their single-seat majority in the Colorado Senate, the only locus of Republican veto power in Colorado state government. Control over the chamber appears to be focusing on the SD-24 race between Republican Beth Martinez Humenik and Faith Winter. This race, and with it control of the Senate, is an absolute toss-up, and we honestly have no idea which way it will fall.

Colorado Attorney General: Phil Weiser appears poised to win this race after an ugly but bumbling negative campaign waged by Republican George Brauchler. Historic frustration for Democrats in this race obliges contained enthusiasm, but this is the constitutional statewide office Democrats feel strongest about flipping (other than Governor, of course).

Colorado Treasurer: Republican Brian Watson’s prodigious baggage has been thoroughly aired in this campaign, combining with high Democratic turnout to inspire a measure of confidence in Democrat Dave Young. We give Young the slight edge.

Colorado Secretary of State: Colorado voters haven’t awarded the top four statewide offices to the same party in more than 20 years. Despite a checkered record as Secretary of State and late-breaking scandals that likely would have sunk his re-election bid had they come out earlier, Wayne Williams is the most likely Republican to win statewide in Colorado this year.

We expect this year’s “alphabet amendments,” Amendments V, W, X, Y, Z, and A to all pass handily, as will the payday loan rate cap Proposition 111Amendment 73, a measure to hike taxes on high-income earners for public education, may outperform previous similar measures that were handily defeated but is still unlikely to pass. Amendment 74, the highly controversial takings measure opposed by basically everyone except the oil and gas industry, is also likely to die–as is Proposition 112, a measure to substantially increase setbacks between new oil and gas drilling and surface development, leaving a status quo ante on the issue for the next governor.

Of the two transportation funding measures, Proposition 109 and Proposition 110, we’d say 109 is the more likely of the two to pass because it promises something for nothing to voters by borrowing money to fix roads (assuming legislators will find cuts in the state’s budget to pay for it). We’re concerned that the work to educate voters on the irresponsibility of 109 versus the responsible pay-fors of 110 has not been sufficient, though the overall confusion with two competing ballot measures could sink both options.

And there you have it, readers! We, like everybody on the ballot, await the judgement of history.

Wayne Williams’ Discretionary Fund Follies Continue

Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R).

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.

Wayne Williams Slammed For Office Account Spending Spree

Colorado Democrats land a punch with a new ad up today:

 

After the Denver Post’s scandalous report last week detailing big personal purchases by Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams on his office discretionary account, including a $700 pair of boots and a $475 cowboy hat, we’ve been waiting for Democrats to jump on what should in any ordinary election year be a major problem. Williams’ predecessor Scott Gessler, after all, lost his bid for governor after getting busted spending less money on an arguably more defensible activity–travel expenses that wrongly included partisan political events.

This year, Williams’ improper discretionary account spending just one downballot data point in a wave of discontent. But to whatever extent this story penetrates the noise, it’s extremely damaging to Williams in a race considered to be very close.

We don’t know anything about ad buys for this well-produced spot, if any, but if we were Williams’ Democratic opponent Jena Griswold we’d foot the bill ourselves.

“Voter Purge” Claims Don’t Pan Out, But Check Anyway

Don’t worry, you get to.

In the last 48 hours there’s been a considerable amount of concern raised by a report from freelance investigative journalist Greg Palast, who has spent many years gumshoeing election processes throughout the 50 states–sometimes finding significant examples of vote suppression on the part of Republican Secretaries of State, Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 being two prominent presidential-election examples of Palast’s work.

This time, however, as 9NEWS reported last night in detail, Palast got a little over his proverbial skis–and let a few misunderstandings about Colorado’s highly accessible election system, in which voters can take part several different ways including Election Day registration, lead to an unnecessary alarmist conclusion:

Greg Palast, an independent journalist who has written for Rolling Stone and other publications, wrote on his website Friday that Colorado is one of several states purging voters from its rolls. Per his report, more than 769,000 registrations were wiped from state records. He made similar claims against other states, like Georgia and Illinois, as well.

Voter registrations in Colorado may be canceled for several reasons including an out-of-state move, a felony conviction or death. Your voter registration could also be canceled if you chose not to vote in recent elections and didn’t respond to inquiries from your county clerk after…[o]ther votes are considered inactive but have not have their registrations canceled.

“What that means is that we have sent them a ballot or mail in the past and that mail has bounced. So, in all likelihood, those voters no longer live here in Colorado. But if they do, they still haven’t been purged, they’re just inactive, and they can reactivate by going to the polls and voting or getting online and changing their voter registration,” Staiert said.

The key thing to understand here is that unlike most other states, in Colorado being “inactivated” for the purposes of being mailed a ballot is in no way a final barrier to voting in any election. Colorado is subscribed to the National Change of Address database (NCOALink), which securely accesses USPS change of address data to keep voting records up to date. In addition, voters for whom election mail is returned are correctly inactivated so that mail ballots aren’t just going out willy-nilly. The large number of registrations affected simply reflects better tracking of these routine changes, not any conspiracy to suppress the vote.

And the bottom line is Colorado’s model election system, which features some of the highest turnouts of any American election since the passage of mail ballots and same-day registration in 2013, wouldn’t work to suppress the vote anyway–since any voter can update their status with one click to the Secretary of State’s website and a few updates to their information. If they do that before October 29, they’ll still get a mail ballot. If a voter misses that deadline, they can fix their registration or even register and vote all the way up to Election Day. To compare our system to so many other states where the rules are indeed set up to purge voters with convoluted recourse or none at all simply reflects a lack of understanding. And if you don’t want to take Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ word for that, which we understand given some of his wacky past statements, here’s his Democratic opponent Jena Griswold:

Williams’ Democratic challenger Jena Griswold issued a statement Monday saying she does not find the claims to be factual.

“The reports on voter purges in Colorado are not true. We need more facts, and less scare tactics in our politics,” she said. [Pols emphasis]

That is the best advice we can give anyone. In this case, we do think the misunderstanding was well-intentioned–and if anything should result in more voters taking the literal thirty seconds required to verify their voter record is up to date before it ever becomes an impediment to their casting a ballot. Even after the mail ballot deadline, no eligible voter in Colorado is truly out of options until the polls close on Election Night.

That’s why Colorado’s voter participation leads the nation–and will again in 2018.

Noble Energy: Screw The Law! Wayne Williams: Cool By Me!

Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R).

A story out today from investigative journalist David Sirota via Westword exposes an audacious new ad campaign from oil and gas producer Noble Energy, directly advocating a no vote on Proposition 112 from their corporate ad budget–and refusing to disclose their spending the way anyone else running such an ad would have to:

In a last-ditch attempt to defeat one of the most far-reaching environmental measures on the 2018 ballot, a fossil-fuel giant is blanketing Colorado television with election-focused political ads that it now claims are outside the purview of all state campaign-finance laws. The maneuver — which pioneers a novel way for corporations to circumvent disclosure statutes and inject money directly into elections — has been blessed by the office of Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who has led a Republican political group bankrolled by the same fossil-fuel corporation that is airing the ads.

At issue is Proposition 112, a landmark measure that would force fossil-fuel companies to set their drilling and fracking operations farther away from hospitals, schools, child-care centers and residential neighborhoods. Natural-gas colossus Noble Energy and its subsidiaries have been among the most prominent opponents of the initiative, disclosing $7.1 million in contributions to Protect Colorado, the issue committee opposing the initiative…

However, on top of those disclosed and regulated expenditures, documents show that Noble has also been airing its own corporate television ads against the measure — and the company refuses to tell state campaign-finance regulators any details about the ads or the amount it is spending on the spots. [Pols emphasis]

In short, the company is asserting that it is not obligated to disclose its spending on these ads, even though they are explicitly advocating a no vote on a statewide ballot measure. Needless to say, this violates the spirit of Colorado’s campaign finance disclosure law in a particularly egregious manner–and if this precedent is allowed to stand it would lead to widespread disclosure-free corporate spending on ballot measures. After all, why would anyone go through the trouble of setting up a committee with disclosure requirements when a corporation can run the same ad without any disclosure?

Obviously if this loophole really exists in the law, it needs to be closed first thing in January when the legislature reconvenes. But we have to think that there is some action that could be taken to stop this kind of blatant end-run around disclosure by corporations–or in the absence of that, a Secretary of State willing to at least point out that this what Noble Energy is doing here is a problem. Or, maybe not.

“This type of activity is likely legal,” says Lynn Bartels, communications director for the Colorado Secretary of State.

It sure looks like Colorado doesn’t have a Secretary of State willing to do enforce these rules and regulations. Here’s why:

Williams has served as an executive committee member of the Republican Secretaries of State Committee, whose parent organization has received $500,000 from Noble Energy since 2016, according to IRS filings. [Pols emphasis] During Williams’ 2018 reelection bid, that parent group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has funneled $500,000 into a Colorado group whose mission is “to support Republican candidates for state house, state senate and statewide office,” according to state records.

Because just like George Brauchler’s reluctance to go after opioid manufacturers given the industry’s lavish support for the Republican Attorney General’s Association (RAGA), Noble Energy knows exactly who to pay off to get away with these ads. In Colorado, that’s Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

The moral of the story? Sometimes the fox guarding the henhouse doesn’t eat the chickens himself. But as much harm can be done just by leaving the door open for the other foxes.

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.

“Honey Badger Lite”–Will Wayne Williams Get Waved Out?

Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R).

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.

Jena Griswold Buys Up October Air Time

Jena Griswold (D).

As the Denver Post’s Jon Murray reports:

Democrat Jena Griswold avoided a primary contest last week, and now the secretary of state candidate has found a use for most of the money she saved: a big October TV ad buy that ensures voters will see plenty of her in the election’s final weeks.

Griswold on Monday announced a $260,000 reservation of fall airtime on broadcast TV channels. The Louisville attorney is challenging Secretary of State Wayne Williams, an El Paso County Republican elected in 2014.

The large preorder secures airtime at lower rates, and Griswold is the first candidate running for statewide office to commit such a large sum for TV advertising ahead of the Nov. 6 general election. The Republican Attorneys General Association rolled out an ad in support of Republican candidate George Brauchler last week on cable TV channels, but the buy was much smaller.

We were initially skeptical of Jena Griswold’s campaign for secretary of state, but she has more than answered our skepticism with a professional early operation and by all accounts a strong work ethic. Having avoided the expense of competing in a primary, Griswold heads into the general election with the resources to purchase all-important October air time before those spots become prohibitively expensive.

Democrats have been searching for a winning combination in the downticket constitutional offices for years, a consistent trouble spot despite their overall landmark success in winning elections here since 2004. Incumbent Republican Wayne Williams has tried to present himself as less controversial than his overtly partisan predecessor Scott “Honey Badger” Gessler, but has nonetheless left himself vulnerable to hard shots from Griswold that could resonate with voters in an anti-Trump wave year.

And now, you can bet on seeing a lot of Jena Griswold on TV when you get your ballot in the mail.

Will San Luis Valley Republicans Have a Statehouse Candidate on the November Ballot?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Pueblo County Sample Republican Primary Ballot 2018As primary ballots start arriving in mailboxes across Colorado next week, some Republican voters in the San Luis Valley are going to be disappointed. There is no GOP candidate on the ballot to challenge the incumbent House District 62 Representative, Democrat Don Valdez of La Jara.

Southern Colorado Republicans appear to have lost an opportunity to field a candidate for a potentially winnable district, one that voted narrowly for President Trump two years ago.

Even though his name isn’t on the primary ballot, Alamosa resident Scott Honeycutt says he’s the candidate and believes he will be on the ballot in November. In fact he says he received such assurance from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.  

On April 13, the eve of Colorado’s state party assemblies, local party members, including State Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) and former Secretary of State Gigi Dennis met at the Hyatt Denver Tech Center for Republican multi-county district assembly meeting. with the goal of nominating one or more candidates for the primary.  As reported by Colorado Politics that night, Scott Honeycutt and Zachary Deherrera were both nominated. Deherrera later dropped out and endorsed Honeycutt.

However, according to party activist and former House District 62 committee chair Richard Drake, the meeting took a long time to get organized and by the time it ended, they couldn’t find anyone from the Secretary of State’s office to accept Honeycutt’s candidate paperwork. Drake says another committee member said he’d take the paperwork home to scan and email it the next week, but he had trouble scanning the forms and said he mailed them instead.

But the paper candidate forms either never made it to the SOS office or didn’t arrive in time, and as a result Honeycutt isn’t listed as candidate on the primary ballot.

(more…)

Did Wayne Williams Help Cover Up Stapleton Petition Fraud?

UPDATE #3: As the Secretary of State’s pushback continues, Doug Robinson’s campaign responds:

Again, not our words.

—–

UPDATE #2: A detail from a Denver Post story in late March about Doug Robinson’s campaign’s discovery of fraudulent petition gathering tactics by Walker Stapleton demonstrates two very pertinent facts: a strong desire by Robinson to get to the bottom of the situation, at least then–and a direct connection from Stapleton to Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams:

Stapleton spokesman Michael Fortney, whose firm also consults for Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ re-election campaign, [Pols emphasis] said in a statement that he takes the claim seriously but he suggested the motivation for the complaint was political.

The secretary of state’s office said Robinson could take the matter to the local district attorney. His campaign said it wants the secretary of state’s investigation to continue.

“We think there is something there,” Robinson said. “And we think they should look into it.”

Folks, do you suppose the fact that Stapleton and Williams share the same campaign consultants as they both run for re-election in 2018 might imply a closer connection between them than Williams’ spokesperson would like you to believe?

If it seems to you like Williams’ office doth protest too much, that’s because it does.

—–

UPDATE: In response to this post, the Secretary of State’s spokesperson is complaining–but not explaining:

Again, here is the verbatim quote from Doug Robinson at the heart of this story:

And the Secretary of State said that if we would agree not to pursue the Walker signatures, they would go with us in front of a judge and we’d be okay. [Pols emphasis]

These are not our words.

—–

Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R).

An interview from last week of GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug “Mitt Romney’s Nephew” Robinson by April Zesbaugh of KOA-AM news in Denver is getting a lot of belated attention today, after somebody along the line realized the importance of what was said. Turning to the subject of GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Walker Stapleton’s ballot petitions, which Stapleton withdrew after they were approved by fellow Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams, Robinson makes what seems to be a startling admission.

Transcript:

ZESBAUGH: Let’s talk about the weird balloting process this year — good people getting kicked off the ballot, because of signatures and how they were gathered. How concerned were you just a few weeks ago, when you almost weren’t going to be on the ballot because of petitions in one district — I think — we’re short by 22 signatures.

ROBINSON: Yeah, so, uh, this was a new experience for me. But we felt good about it from the beginning. You know, the facts were — basically, we accidentally discovered that Walker Stapleton’s team was not gathering the right way, and committing fraud in that process. We, uh — Walker turned in his petitions, anyways. We turned ours in. The Secretary of State approved Walker’s signatures. Walker admitted that some of his were fraudulently collected. Secretary of State said that we were barely short, as as you said. We demonstrated that that was not the case. And the Secretary of State said that if we would agree not to pursue the Walker signatures, they would go with us in front of a judge and we’d be okay. [Pols emphasis] We agreed. We went in front of the judge. It was a 10 minute conversation. We were on the ballot. So, this whole thing has been kind of a crazy process. But that’s what happened. Those are the facts.

The timeline leading up to this situation is what’s critical: Stapleton’s petitions were “validated” by the Secretary of State on April 6, even though Robinson’s campaign was raising concerns about the legitimacy of those petitions–concerns that turned out to be dead-on accurate–in late March. It was days after Williams’ certification of Stapleton’s petitions, April 10, when Stapleton appeared at a press conference to announce that some of his signatures were collected fraudulently and that he would seek a spot on the ballot via the state GOP assembly.

And then Robinson’s campaign, which correctly identified the petition fraud that Williams’ office once again missed, was ruled by the same Secretary of State to be insufficient by 22 signatures. When considered against the backdrop of an obviously flawed process to validate Stapleton’s fraudulent petitions, the punctiliousness showed by Williams against Robinson is deeply questionable.

And that’s before Williams made a deal with Robinson to keep it all under wraps. Obviously to a neophyte candidate like Robinson, confronted with a Byzantine process controlled by a partisan official that just tossed him off the ballot, a deal by that same official to “go with us in front of a judge” and fix everything up would sound pretty good! All that was necessary was to “agree not to pursue the Walker signatures” and everything would turn out just fine.

Especially for Walker Stapleton and Wayne Williams, the one who submitted fraudulent petitions and the one who “validated” them. If Robinson’s story is accurate, this appears to be a Republican secretary of state using his influence over the election process to cover up the favored Republican candidate’s petition fraud–and in the most charitable analysis, Williams’ own incompetence.

And that, gentle reader, would be a very big scandal indeed.

Matt Arnold: The Gadfly Giveth and Taketh Away

Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R).

Having taken note of the original story of a Denver grand jury investigating alleged official misconduct by GOP Secretary of State Wayne Williams, we’re honor-bound to report the conclusion of that case–Denver DA Beth McCann is dropping the matter, as the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports:

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann’s office has dropped its grand jury investigation into how Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams handled campaign finance complaints upon reviewing more information in the case.

“My office has since received additional documents which the Secretary of State’s Office provided voluntarily and yesterday I met with attorneys representing Secretary Williams and Deputy Secretary (Suzanne) Staiert,” McCann said in a written statement Tuesday. “I am requesting that the grand jury withdraw the subpoenas that had previously been issued and my office will close the grand jury investigation at this time.”

…The grand jury probe stemmed from allegations by Arnold, who operates under the name Campaign Integrity Watchdog, that Williams and his office failed to pursue the collection of a $9,650 judgment against a Colorado Springs political committee. The committee had failed to register with the state and failed to file financial disclosure reports.

In the end the heart of this complaint, that Secretary of State Williams showed favoritism to political allies by failing to collect assessed fines and intervening in cases to reduce or even eliminate penalties, fell under the discretion by law his office has in these cases. Like we said about the story originally, the actions of Colorado’s partisan secretaries of state in “oversight” of elections in the state could be considered inherently conflicted, and have long generated controversy. Before Williams was in office, GOP Secretary of State Scott Gessler actually agreed to hold a dunk tank fundraiser to help pay off fines owed by the Larimer County GOP. It was a bad enough idea optically that he Gessler ditched the dunk tank, but under the law it was also permissible.

Republican political watchdog and avenger Matt Arnold, who won big last year when he busted a group run by Bob Beauprez to attack fellow Republicans in primaries in 2016 for violating the “primary purpose” rules that govern political nonprofits, has nothing to be ashamed of in filing this complaint. The question he raises is entirely valid and will remain so, even if the current Secretary of State isn’t the most egregious offender (see: Gessler, Gigi Dennis, Mike Coffman). The extent to which fines assessed for bad behavior in political campaigns are routinely written off, slashed, and otherwise marginalized in this state is something we suspect the voters wouldn’t appreciate if it was more broadly known.

As for Matt Arnold, we get that he comes in for a lot of criticism from the political insiders on both sides whose lives he clutters up with legal filings. And like most watchdogs, not every case is going to turn out to be a big scandal.

For the rest of us, though, Arnold helps keep Colorado politics interesting–and a little more transparent.

A Few More Words On Matt Arnold, Preeminent Political Gadfly

Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

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.

Paid For By The NRA–But What About Paid TO The NRA?

As bloggers who focus on Colorado politics, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we spent a fair amount of time running searches on the Colorado Secretary of State’s TRACER campaign finance disclosure website. Recently, with the National Rifle Association’s controlling influence in Republican politics under the spotlight, we’ve naturally looked at the NRA’s funding of candidates like we assume plenty of others have.

But we also ran another search that turned up something interesting–what about payments made to the NRA?

As you can see, there’s not very many of them. You can disregard the larger amounts which appear to be transfers from one NRA entity to another. That leaves a couple of very old payments from obscure figures, a payment from Sen. Randy Baumgardner back in 2008, and several payments from Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

Before the controversy over the NRA’s role in American politics escalated after last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, these expenditures most likely wouldn’t have attracted any attention. But now we’re obliged to ask the question: is Wayne Williams paying his NRA dues out of campaign funds? Even if that’s legal, we can’t say it looks good. Maybe if he had some company with other Republicans doing so, but it doesn’t appear so.

It’s not like Williams, like any Republican with a pulse in the last three decades, would be worried about recouping his investment. Obviously, the NRA doles out more to Republican politicians than they expect to get back in dues and magazine subscriptions. Nobody’s suggesting the existence of a kickback scheme in $25 increments.

It’s just weird, in a way that doesn’t look great below contemporary headlines.

Colorado SOS Promotes Dubious Voter Self-Suppression Effort

Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ press shop, which is headed by a former Denver Post reporter, runs a blog they use to promote all kinds of stories–some of which seem a little outside the SoS’s purview, but generally the reporter in question gets forgiven due to genial relations with both sides of the aisle.

Today, however, a post by state employee Julia Sunny promoting a political group’s project to “opt-out” voters from political ads is raising eyebrows, and questions about the appropriateness of this taxpayer-funded content:

Tired of receiving all those election calls even after you’ve voted? The “I Already Voted” initiative in Aurora is set to change that.

Founder Jon Haubert started the initiative for the benefit of both citizens and candidates to “reduce the number of unnecessary political advertisements at election time,” according to the “I Already Voted” website. It is designed to save campaigns from spending money on a voter who has already voted and saves the voter from receiving an overload of political ads.

Once you have voted, you can head over to the IAV website and submit your name, address, and date of birth. I Already Voted will then notify candidates, campaigns and media to stop targeting those voters. Haubert assures users that the information they submit will be safe….

The first problem here is that Jonathan Haubert is very, very far from a nonpartisan good Samaritan looking to altruistically make the process better. Haubert, a registered Republican and policy advisor to the conservative Heartland Institute, was a top aide to former Rep. Richard Pombo, one of Congress’ most notorious hard-right, anti-environment Republicans–and was accused of wide-ranging corruption as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. That experience served Haubert well when he came to Colorado to help launch Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED), this state’s most notorious pro-energy industry political advocacy group.

And let’s be very clear about what Haubert’s goal is: reducing the volume of information distributed to voters about elections. “Opting out” of election information might sound attractive during the heat of election season, but it’s just not a good idea from any responsible civic perspective. Even if you’ve already personally voted, that information could be relevant to others you come into contact with. Perhaps more important depending on your own affiliations, the partisan operative running this program makes giving over any personal data inadvisable–unless you want to help the conservative political “industrial complex” improve their targeting of you for their own political ads, a side bonus to the primary goal of taking voters out of the information loop.

In short, this is nothing the Secretary of State should ever be promoting with state resources.