Colorado House Minority Leader Hugh McKean (R-Loveland) made headlines earlier this year after a political adversary pointed out that he was registered to vote at a vacant plot of land in Loveland.
According to reporting from 9News, Austin Hein – a conservative political operative and gun rights activist who challenged McKean in the June 28 Republican primary – filed a complaint against the legislator with the Secretary of State’s office in February.
Hein alleged that McKean had violated campaign finance and voter registration laws by listing a vacant lot as his residential address. State law does not allow voters to register to vote on vacant land unless they are experiencing homelessness (which McKean is not).
McKean, who said he’s been sharing an apartment in Loveland with his son for the past few years, told 9News that he was planning to build a house on the vacant property and that he’d had to change his driver’s license to the new address in order to get keys to his new mailbox.
“I’m building a house. When I went to get my mailbox key, they said I need to have my driver’s license to get my mailbox key,” McKean told 9News. “I changed my driver’s license, well in Colorado, that means it changes your registration, too.”
McKean was apparently referring to Colorado’s “motor voter system,” which automatically updates voter records when a person changes the address on their driver’s license.
In March, the Secretary of State’s Elections Division filed a motion to dismiss Hein’s complaint. A week later, the Deputy Secretary of State dismissed the complaint, agreeing that no specific violation of Colorado campaign finance law had been alleged and noting that state law doesn’t actually require candidates to list any address on their affidavits to run for office.
However, a search through publicly available records yielded lingering questions as to how McKean acquired that property, which was previously owned by a campaign donor of his.
Property sale records can usually be viewed through county assessor websites, but because of the unorthodox nature of this transaction, the official records don’t show how much McKean paid for the land.
McKean claimed to have paid full price for the property, but initially declined to divulge the exact amount on the record or to produce documentation of the purchase.
“[I] am not in favor of publishing personal financial details,” McKean told the Colorado Times Recorder. “That is not required of public officials in Colorado, nor do I think it is appropriate.”
While no evidence of foul play has been uncovered, the Colorado Times Recorder investigated whether McKean’s former campaign donor sold him a plot of land at fair market value, or whether McKean may have gotten a bargain – possibly a hefty one – on his property deal. Here’s what we know so far.
The Property at Mariana Butte
The neighborhood that’s home to this empty plot of land is nestled among the rolling hills and fairways of west Loveland’s Mariana Butte Golf Course. The housing subdivision there is a fairly recent addition to the landscape, with many of the houses springing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but after two decades of development, there are few vacant lots left.
Except, that is, for Lot 10. Although the lot has changed hands several times over the years since it was bought from property developers, there have been no apparent attempts to build a house there. One of its former owners also owned an adjacent lot with a house, essentially creating one jumbo-sized lot, then sold the two lots together to the next owners for $615,000. The subsequent owners eventually sold the lot with the house and the vacant lot separately to different parties.
From all appearances, for most of Lot 10’s history, it’s essentially served as extra yard space for the adjacent lot with the house. That changed in April 2020 when Bill and Marcia Coulson – a pair of Loveland entrepreneurs who own two manufacturing companies – bought the property.
The Coulsons didn’t develop the property, either – they only owned the property for just over a year – but in September 2021, they initiated a quit claim transaction to transfer the property into the Bee Hive Revocable Trust.
No information about the Bee Hive Revocable Trust is registered with the Secretary of State, and the Larimer County Clerk & Recorder’s Office says it does not have a statement of authority on file for the entity. However McKean has disclosed the trust as a business interest worth more than $5,000 on his 2021 personal financial disclosure. After the trust acquired the property, it was subsequently transferred into Mckean’s name via another quit claim deed in March.
Jill Klancke, a Denver real estate attorney, said this way of conducting the property sale – through multiple quit claim transfers – was unorthodox, and that quit claim transactions are typically only done between friends and family members, not in arm’s-length real estate transactions.
“People often [use quit claim deeds] because they want to keep their transactions private,” Klancke said. “A quitclaim says ‘whatever I own, you get’ – it’s the lowest form of conveyance. People use these for a non-arms-length transaction or when they’re trying to give very little information.”
A quick search on the Larimer County assessor’s website reveals another unusual aspect of these quit claim transactions: The listed sale price for each quit claim was listed as $1.
Klancke said that in practice, it’s not uncommon to list $1 as the sale amount in a quit claim transaction – she emphasized that that listed amount is unrelated to the amount of money that was actually paid.
However, it was initially not clear how much McKean actually paid for Lot 10. There are no public records of any sale, and the county assessor’s website shows no records of a loan or debt instrument connected with this transaction. It could have meant McKean paid for the property in cash – but no public record existed of any funds being exchanged.
Asked to comment on this transaction, McKean wrote in an email, “I paid Mr. Coulson the full asking price for the lot, an amount over $130,000.” He went on to say that he could find the exact amount if desired.
Lot 10 is listed on Larimer County assessor’s website at a value of $136,000.
The Colorado Times Recorder attempted to take McKean up on his offer to share the amount he paid for the property, but received no response for several weeks.
After the Colorado Times Recorder reached out to him once again to inquire about the transaction, McKean said in early April that he’d be “happy” to disclose the amount he paid on the condition that it would be kept private and not published. The Colorado Times Recorder agreed not to publish the amount so long as it was within the range McKean had stated – over $130,000 – and again requested documentation of the sale.
McKean did not respond to that request. When contacted again several weeks later, the Minority Leader agreed to show this reporter a copy of the check in person, but again did not respond when she attempted to schedule a meeting with him.
Later in the summer, when reached for comment on a subsequent story, the legislator finally agreed to a scheduled meeting with the reporter and showed her a purchaser’s copy of a check payable to Bill [William] Coulson in the amount of $132,366. The check was dated Sep. 8, 2021, and the Larimer County Assessor’s website shows the property was transferred to McKean’s trust six days later, on Sep. 14.
When questioned about the dollar amount of the transaction, McKean stated flatly that that was the amount Coulson had told him the property was worth.
If McKean had bought the property from Coulson for significantly less than market value, he could have been in violation of a Colorado law that prohibits local government officials from accepting gifts worth more than $50 in a calendar year. As it stands now, though, despite the unusual circumstances around the property transaction, McKean appears to have paid market value – or close to it – for the property.
The Wealthy and Connected Coulsons
The nature of the relationship between McKean and the Coulsons is not clear – but prior reporting has established a possible connection between them going back at least 10 years.
The Coulson’s legacy of wealth and property ownership spans several decades. According to the Denver Business Journal, they have owned Eldon James Corp., which manufactures plastic tubing and hose fittings, since 1989. In 2014, they founded WilMarc Medical, a company that designs and builds medical devices.
In 2012, the Loveland Reporter-Herald reported that the Coulsons had come into conflict with local developers over a 118-acre swath of land they owned in northwest Loveland adjacent to the Eldon James plant. The Coulsons had requested a conservation easement on the land, while developers were eyeing the area for industrial development.
At that time, McKean – then a Loveland City Councilman – was serving as a liaison with the open lands commission, and he was quoted as defending the Coulson’s interests as private property owners.
“We don’t own it. It’s not our land,” McKean told the Loveland Reporter-Herald. “When you look at it from a private property standpoint, it’s their land and they can do what they want with it.”
A few years later, in 2016, when McKean was running for the Colorado state legislature, it became more obvious that some connection existed between McKean and the Coulsons. In June of that year, Bill Coulson made the maximum legally allowable donation – $400 – to McKean’s campaign. It appears to be the first and only donation Coulson has ever made to a candidate for state legislature.
Where Things Stand Now
Did the Coulsons gift McKean a piece of land – or offer it to him at a steep discount? It doesn’t appear so, although more information could yet emerge that may shed more light on the details of McKean’s purchase of the property in Loveland.
All available evidence also suggests that McKean does intend to reside at this new address and that construction of his new home is underway.
On February 23, 9News reported that Lot 10 was still vacant, but McKean had said he was planning to build a house there and that construction was scheduled to begin shortly.
“In about five or six days, there’s going to be a big hole because we’ve got to pour a foundation,” McKean told 9News.
As of March 22, almost a month later, Lee Pallansch, Vice President and Treasurer of the Mariana Butte Homeowners Association, indicated that the construction may have been delayed due to snowy weather conditions, but that it appeared to be moving forward.
“I haven’t been down in the last couple of days, [but] they had [the property] all staked out and were waiting for the snow to clear so they could dig the foundation,” Pallansch told the Colorado Times Recorder. “It’s really dependent on weather. They’ve done all their utility locates.”
Logan Davis and Erik Maulbetsch contributed reporting to this story.
Update and clarification: This story was updated on Aug. 18, 2022 to reflect that McKean did show this reporter a purchaser’s copy of the check allegedly used to purchase the property.