DENVER — Two women newly elected to the Colorado State Senate will need to defend donations to their campaigns after a Denver-based campaign watchdog group filed campaign finance complaints with the Secretary of State.
Matt Arnold, director of Campaign Integrity Watchdog, says soon-to-be freshmen senators Faith Winter and Tammy Story accepted out of state money from a source that acted as a conduit for donors in violation of the Colorado Constitution.
Arnold said both the organization — by not filing in Colorado — and Winter and Story for accepting the money are in violation of the law. Neither Story or Winter were available for immediate comment. Complete Colorado will update the story as needed.
Arnold told Complete Colorado that he noticed both women had an “enormous amount” of out-of-state contributions totaling tens of thousands of dollars — predominantly from the San Francisco Bay, New York City, and Chicago areas — in odd and identical amounts contributed on the exact same days by individuals to their campaigns.
As he researched the donations, he found several of those donors had boasted on a website that they actually made their donations to the California-based Sister District Project (SDP), a progressive organization to support its mission of flipping conservative states to shape national policy.
“They boasted they had donated to support SDP’s cause to Californicate Colorado,” Arnold said.
However, when the donations were reported by Story and Winter, they were not reported as coming from SDP, instead they listed more than 600 identical donors having donated identical amounts, on the exact same days ranging from $1.01 to $400.
SDP did donate a few hundred dollars to the campaigns though a Small Donor Committee set up in its name, which Arnold said is legal. It’s SDP acting as conduit for the individuals that is against Article XXVIII of the Colorado Constitution, he said, which says: “No person shall act as a conduit for a contribution to a candidate committee.”
“Because they did not register in Colorado, their contributors were never reported,” Arnold said “That is what is illegal. They collected contributions to support candidates in other states.”
Arnold also alleges in his complaints that Story and Winter failed to report the names and other required information of dozens of donors and accepted in-kind donations in excess of the $400 allowed by law in some cases.
The complaint only takes into consideration donations from September to November because a recent statute of limitations ruling by current Secretary of State Wayne Williams reduced the time to report from 180 days to 90 days.
“The total is probably double what the actual complaint is,” Arnold said.
SDP says on its website that they “implement our political strategy by selecting a portfolio of races comprised of three categories.”
Those categories include “blue flip” states, which SDP believes can be flipped to Democrats; “blue hold” states, which SDP identifies as chambers currently held by Democrats but only by a small margin; and “blue inroads” states, which SDP doesn’t believe can be flipped but wants to focus on gaining more Democrat seats.
Each category identifies specific races, and the Colorado Senate was identified by the group as a “blue flip state.”
“They fundraised based on that goal,” Arnold said. “They funneled buckets of cash to Story and Winter based on that fundraising.”
Arnold said Story and Winter also reported a single donation equal to more than $12,000 they claim were aggregated donations not requiring identification. Colorado law requires the names of donors that contribute an aggregate amount of $20 or more.
“Did that cash come in bags or suitcases,” Arnold said. “That is what led to campaign finance laws in the 70s, Tricky Dick (Nixon) and his suitcases of cash. We have buckets and suitcases of cash pouring into the state to support Democrats.”
Lynn Bartels, communications director for Williams, said although Williams leaves office on Jan. 8, complaints will be handled the same way they are now.
“The decisions on these complaints — whether to dismiss, proceed, etc. — will be made by the same staffers in the election division using the same criteria developed last summer when the court struck down a provision in the campaign-finance law,” Bartels said.
Bartels said the office will make its findings by Jan. 2.
If the complaint moves forward to the next administration, Arnold said he’s curious to see how it’s handled by Williams successor, Jena Griswold, a Democrat who ran on putting an end to dark money.
Arnold has asked for penalties ranging from a $50 per day fine for each individual disclosure violation, the money returned to the individuals, and a fine of at least five times the amount of donations that exceeded the Colorado $400 limit. Penalties could total more than $100,000 each for Winter and Story if levied.
Arnold has successfully won campaign finance complaints against both Republicans and Democrats and notes that nothing will change unless more take on the fight. “If the spigot is turned off, the campaign playing field gets a bit more even and actually representative of Colorado voters and citizens, rather than California-based “progressive” special interest,” Arnold said.