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Fundraising email from CU regent tiptoes along ethical lines

Emails obtained by Complete Colorado show current CU Regent Linda Shoemaker used her government-issued email account to organize a fundraising event to benefit Alice Madden, who is currently running for the at-large seat on the regents’ board this election cycle.

On August 17, Shoemaker wrote to a potential donor and fundraiser and said, “…I hope you can help me raise some money. I still need another $50,000 to run the kind of advertising program I’d like. Again this is an under-the-radar fundraising effort because we don’t want the other camp to find out that we are doing an Independent Expenditure. We need to have the money in hand by September 1st.”

The email was specific that the monies raised by the event would be designated for Madden’s benefit, and the event would be held at Shoemaker’s house.

The Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act and elements of the Colorado Constitution prohibit the use of government money or resources to influence an election.

Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for the CU President’s Office told Complete Colorado by email there was no campaign violation:

Regent Shoemaker used her CU email to discuss fundraising with a personal friend and asked for assistance with fundraising, but didn’t solicit a donation, which is an important distinction. CU employees are primarily expected to use their e-mails for business-related purposes, but we understand that there will be some incidental uses. Regents are not employees of CU, but are provided e-mail addresses to allow them to perform their function as an elected official. Our policy prohibits using university resources for political purposes such as mass emails (or printing or distributing fliers) advocating a particular candidate or initiative — essentially campaigning. Regent Shoemaker has indicated that she accidentally used this account for a small number of e-mails to personal friends that relate to Ms. Madden and will not use her university email account in this manner in the future.

Another Shoemaker email obtained via the Colorado Open Records Act contained a reference to CU President Bruce Benson, which mirrors other statements by Shoemaker previously published by Complete Colorado.

On August 3, Shoemaker emailed an individual named Mike Feeley and said:

“I’ve made excellent progress on raising money for Alice Madden’s Independent Expenditure. I’d like to stop by your office when I’m in Denver on Friday to give you an update if you’re available. There are also some interesting developments regarding Bruce Benson that will be of interest to you and Norm,” (emphasis added).

The references regarding Benson are of particular interest given that rumors have swirled for a good part of the summer and fall that Benson’s job might be in jeopardy if the majority of the regents’ board swung back to Democrats, which would seem the likely outcome if Madden were elected. The Boulder Daily Camera recently published an article, “Should Bruce Benson be worried about his job?”

Individuals in the emails with Shoemaker — Mike Feeley, ‘Norm,’ and Jim Martin — would seem to be well-known political players in Colorado, but Shoemaker would not confirm and declined any further comment.

Madden is opposed on the ballot by Republican Heidi Ganahl, a small business entrepreneur who founded and later sold the “Camp Bow Wow” chain of dog daycare and boarding facilities. Ganahl has previously suggested that a Democrat majority on the regent’s board would result in Benson’s departure.

Elections for the CU Board of Regents are typically low-profile and low-budget affairs. But this year’s race has been different. As Complete Colorado columnist Simon Lomax first revealed in March, Madden has the support of groups tied to California billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. Fossil Free CU, the local chapter of the national environmental group, endorsed Madden early in the race. Later, Conservation Colorado — the local chapter of another national group, the League of Conservation Voters — also endorsed Madden. Steyer has donated at least $500,000 to, $475,000 to LCV and $200,000 to Conservation Colorado’s campaign arm in recent years.

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