To show how the Colorado Secretary of State’s (SOS) new campaign finance rules work, I filed a real-life complaint last month alleging that Republican candidate for governor Walker Stapleton broke Colorado law by not disclosing his wife’s $30,000 salary.
But the secretary of state says I messed up, because the SOS isn’t responsible for enforcing the law I think Stapleton broke.
During my vacation, in a detailed response to my complaint, the SOS didn’t say whether Stapleton was guilty or innocent of failing to disclose his wife’s 30K, which she earned as director of Stapleton’s family’s foundation.
Instead, I was told that the “district attorney,” not the secretary of state, is responsible for enforcing the law against someone “who willfully files a false or incomplete disclosure statement.”
The Colorado SOS’ Campaign Finance Manager Stephen Bouey wrote me that the SOS doesn’t enforce Colorado’s Public Disclosure law—only the “Colorado Constitution Art. XXVIII, the Fair Campaign Practices Act, or the Secretary of State’s Rules concerning Campaign and Political Finance.”
The SOS wrote me:
“Section 7 of the Public Disclosure Law states that any person ‘who willfully files a false or incomplete disclosure statement, amendment, or notice that no amendment is required,’ is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine of $1,000 to $5,000. Allegations concerning violations of this law carry criminal penalties that are under the jurisdiction of the district attorney, not the Secretary of State.”
I’m not a lawyer, but I’m confused, because Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act, which the SOS does enforce, states that a candidate for governor “shall file a statement disclosing the information required by section 24-6-202 (2) with the appropriate officer, on a form approved by the secretary of state, within ten days of filing the affidavit required by subsection (1) of this section.”
As I see it, Stapleton didn’t file the “information required,” because he left out Jenna Stapleton’s $30,000, so he broke the Fair Campaign Practices Act.
But the SOS doesn’t see it that way:
“Failure to timely file a [Public Finance Disclosure] is a campaign finance violation. But failure to disclose required information on a PFD concerns the Public Disclosure Law, not campaign finance law. The complaint does not allege that Stapleton failed to timely file his PFD or his updated PFD, and the Secretary of State has not imposed a late filing penalty.”
The SOS went on to tell me that the Public Disclosure Law does indeed require a state candidate to list his spouse’s income. So, bingo, at least we all agree I had that right!
Again, I’m not a lawyer, so I need to figure this out, but I noticed something that might be relevant.
To break the law, it looks like Stapleton has to “willfully” omit his wife’s income.
It seems plausible that he just forgot, either because 1) Jenna’s Stapleton’s 30k amounts to grains of sand in the dunes of Stapleton’s wealth or 2) his campaign’s legal team is incompetent. Or a combination of the two.
Either way, the law-breaking wouldn’t be willful. But once he’s been informed of the omission, and he fails to correct the mistake, is he now “willfully” breaking the law? The SOS told me it contacted Stapleton about my complaint, so now he presumably knows about it.
In any case, the email I got from Bouey was titled the “Final Agency Decision” regarding my complaint, and I received it within 10 business days after I received notice of the receipt of my complaint, as promised under the new SOS rules.
“This email serves as notification under Secretary of State Rules Concerning Campaign and Political Finance, Rule 18.2.4(b)(1), that the complaint has been dismissed. A copy of the agency decision is attached to this email.”
The SOS’ rules lay out a detailed appeal process, and I’ll explain these in my next blog post after I decide whether to appeal. Stay tuned.