DENVER — Campaign finance complaints against two newly elected Democrat State Senators will move forward according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s (SOS) office.
Some of the accusations were dismissed, however, as they fell outside the statute of limitations, according to the findings.
Faith Winter and Tammy Story were notified on Wednesday that the complaint alleging they failed to accurately report campaign contributions, accepted coordinated contributions via a conduit, and violated contribution limits would move forward.
Neither Winter or Story returned requests from Complete Colorado for comment. In the ruling, campaign finance manager for the Secretary of State’s (SOS) office Stephen Bouey said:
“The elections division finds that complainant alleged some potential violations of Colorado campaign finance law. The elections division will conduct additional review of the remaining allegations within 30 days to determine whether to file a complaint with a hearing officer.”
The complaints were filed by Matt Arnold, director of Denver-based Campaign Integrity Watchdog.
Arnold said in the complaints that donors to the two women’s campaigns 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.
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.”
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.
Arnold, who has successfully won campaign finance complaints against both Republicans and Democrats, was disappointed, however, with the SOS dismissing donations prior to Sept. 18.
Those donations were in the Sept. 17 TRACER filing.
Arnold said the amount of donations dismissed is minuscule, but he plans to appeal the decision on principle, saying because the filing date fell on a Sunday, he had until Monday to make the claim.
“It really doesn’t slice out much,” Arnold said, “even if they had a legal leg to stand on. Sept. 17 plus 90 days equals Dec. 16, which was a Sunday. The complaint was filed on Monday, Dec. 17. So, if they move forward with the complaint that does not include the Sept. 17 allegations, that makes it appealable, and it actually opens up very good grounds for Campaign Integrity Watchdog to intervene as a party and take over part of the prosecution.”
Arnold said he has contacted the SOS office asking them to reconsider before he decides what his next step will be.
The SOS office now has 30 days to determine whether to refer to an administrative law judge for a hearing.
That decision will fall under a new Secretary of State and a new Attorney General, both Democrats. Arnold said this will be the pair’s first test whether they follow through on campaign promises.
Jena Griswold, who takes over for Wayne Williams as Secretary of State on Jan. 8, ran on eliminating dark money from elections and making sure campaign finance laws are followed. Her campaign website said: “She will also make sure campaign finance law is enforced and make sure special interest groups and politicians play by the rules.”
Arnold said he hopeful she and new Attorney General Phil Weiser will do what they were elected to do and look past the “who” that the complaint was filed against.
“It will be up to the Attorney General to prosecute two Democrat state legislators,” Arnold said. “This will be the first test of Griswold as to whether or not she is going to favor her party or uphold the law. I hope she passes.”
Arnold said he also hopes the legislature tightens up campaign finance laws.
“Clearly the enforcement of campaign finance laws in Colorado is broken,” he said. “It’s going to be up to the state legislature to fix it. The challenge is going to be with a complete one-party rule — and the only cases left for prosecution are against Democrats — that’s going to put them in an interesting pickle. Hopefully, there is enough of them that realize that political majorities are not forever.”