If you’ve been following the Colorado Times Recorder, you know that we’ve been explaining the Colorado Secretary of State’s new rules for enforcing campaign finance laws, which allow everyday citizens to lodge official complaints with the Secretary of State.
To clarify the process, we lodged a complaint, alleging that candidate for governor Walker Stapleton forgot to disclose his wife’s income on forms that he was required to file with the SOS as part of his candidacy.
The SOS dismissed our complaint, writing that he didn’t have authority to decide whether our specific allegation was true or not. He said the district attorney would have to decide.
Meanwhile, Stapleton admitted to ColoradoPolitics that, in fact, he did not include his wife’s $30,000 income from the Harmes C. Fishback Foundation on his mandatory disclosure form.
He fixed the form and alleged that no laws were broken, without explaining what caused the lapse. Did he think his wife was a volunteer for his family’s foundation? Did his layer screw up? No one knows, as of this writing.
In any case, the question is, what do you do now, if you’ve filed a complaint?
The SOS’ new rules allow for an appeal. The rule states, “The dismissal is a final agency action, and subject to review” under Colorado law governing “rule-making and licensing procedures by state agencies.”
If you file a complaint, and want to appeal, Colorado law spells out the process this way:
any person adversely affected or aggrieved by any agency action may commence an action for judicial review in the district court within thirty-five days after such agency action becomes effective; but, if such agency action occurs in relation to any hearing pursuant to section 24-4-105, then the person must also have been a party to such agency hearing. A proceeding for such review may be brought against the agency by its official title, individuals who comprise the agency, or any person representing the agency or acting on its behalf in the matter sought to be reviewed. The complaint shall state the facts upon which the plaintiff bases the claim that he or she has been adversely affected or aggrieved, the reasons entitling him or her to relief, and the relief which he or she seeks.
In our example of Stapleton forgetting his wife’s 30K, the core problem has been fixed, but an appeal could be lodged to assess penalties for forgetting his wife’s income for so long.
Also, he may face misdemeanor charges for failing to disclose the 30K in the first place.
At least that’s how I read the law.
The Stapleton campaign sees it differently, arguing that the mistake wasn’t willful, but just a run-of-the-mill stumble, according to the ColoradoPolitics post. Therefore, all’s forgiven, as long as the lapse was fixed within 30 days of his becoming aware of it, which it was, Stapleton says.
At this point, if you’re an ordinary citizen trying to navigate this SOS process, you probably need a lawyer. And you probably don’t have one. And frankly, at least in this example, you might pat yourself on the back and say, hey, he fixed his lapse, in direct response to the complaint, even if he didn’t pay fines and get convicted of anything.
So I’m not going to appeal or sue in court. The Stapleton example served its purpose of showing how the new rules work.
I hope this series of blog posts inspires you to file your own complaint, whether it be against a Democrat or a Republican like Stapleton. Colorado deputizes you as the enforcer of its campaign finance laws, and now you know how to do it.