2021 Election, Education, Featured, Fort Collins, Larimer County, Sherrie Peif

Union-backed Fort Collins school board candidates hit with campaign finance, ethics complaints

FORT COLLINS — With just days to go until election, things are heating up in the Poudre R-1 Board of Education races, where a slate of conservative candidates is running against teachers’ union-backed incumbents.

Multiple campaign finance violations and ethical complaints have been levied against the incumbents —Kristen Draper, Carolyn Reed, and Jessica Zamora — and their supporters in the latest battle being waged over status quo versus reform candidates.

On Wednesday, Fort Collins resident Natasha Carr, sent a letter to Board of Education President, Christophe Febvre, outlining a series of alleged boardmember conduct violations, including failure to adhere to:

  • Ethical, businesslike, and lawful conduct.
  • Proper use of authority and appropriate decorum while acting as directors.
  • Loyalty to the citizens, unconflicted by loyalties to staff, other organizations, and any self-interest.
  • Avoiding conflict of interest with respect to their fiduciary responsibilities.

The letter says Draper, Reed and Zamora sent out “campaign flyers that are in clear violation of the code of conduct. In addition, an email obtained via CORA from the President of the PEA [Poudre Education Association] outlines coordination of activities between some board members, the PEA, and teachers. This email indicates that members who may have previously employed as teachers (and PEA members) may be acting in their previous capacity and members of the teacher’s union, in violation of the spirit of (avoiding conflict of interest with respect to their fiduciary responsibilities).”

Carr questions who paid for the flyers and asserts that Draper, Reed and Zamora worked in conjunction with the PEA to develop the language used on the flyers, which would be illegal under Colorado law if the teachers union paid for the flyers through its candidate and issue committees.

“The campaign flyers portraying parents as extremists is intimidating to parents,” the complaint reads. “I have had parents tell me they are afraid to speak out against the actions of the PSD BOE because they fear being smeared, the potential for negative repercussions by teachers against their children, and possible ramifications for their own employment. Such intimidation infringes upon our First Amendment rights. The words of the flyer and the email are egregious violations of the BOE code of conduct and have permanently damaged the relationship between the community and the BOE.”

The problems with the incumbents’ campaign don’t stop with the charges from Carr.

On the same day Carr sent her letter to the board, campaign finance violations appeared in Draper and Zamora’s TRACER accounts on the Secretary of State’s website.

Windsor resident Chase Eckerdt alleged that Zamora failed to report expenditure or contributions and had inaccurate or incomplete finance reports. Eckerdt says in his complaint that on her Oct. 18th report, Zamora reported $59.22 in Paypal fees but did not note any of her donations coming through Paypal.

Although there are no specific instructions in the campaign finance manual for the use of Paypal other than to report the fees, it is common practice for candidates to outline which of their contributions came from Paypal as the money transfer service does not collect all the information required by the Secretary of State’s office for donors. The standard fee from Paypal is 2.89 percent, plus $.49 cents per donation. Zamora’s total donations reported that period were $6,845, with $5,500 coming in a single donor from the Public Education Committee.

Eckerdt also filed three complaints against Draper. Draper also had an Oct. 18 filing against Paypal fees. However, Draper paid $334.27 in fees, also without itemizing her Paypal donations. She reported a total $9,290 in contributions.

Eckerdt filed a similar complaint against Draper’s Oct. 5 filing, resulting in $226.99 in fees, as well as a complaint that Draper took a $300 donation from IBlues Corporation, adding that IBlues is not registered with the Secretary of States Office and that donations to candidate campaigns cannot come from corporations.

The largest complaint against those backing the union-favored candidates in the Poudre School District, however, came against the Public Education Committee, which donated $5,500 to each of the campaigns in Poudre.

In that complaint, Eckerdt says the committee is hiding where all donations made to the group since July 1, are coming from.

“They have brought in $426,016.93 without a single donation reported,” the complaint alleges. “Every report they are saying that the donations all came from individuals donating $19.99 or less. This means they are claiming 21,311 individual donors of $19.99. The committee has a prior complaint where they were failing to report expenditures (2005) and they had a complaint filed against them. They settled the complaint in court, paying $10,000 in fines and the court dismissed the case without prejudice.”

It’s likely at least some of the money came from teachers’ union dues. In such case, the union splits the “electioneering’ part of the dues across several Independent Expenditure committees and Small Donor committees, creating a $19.99 donation to legally hide the names of the teachers.

The teachers’ names are important to the reporting as Colorado law allows teachers to opt out of the election-funding portion of their dues.

Another group, “Student’s Deserve Better,” that has spent another $300,000 opposing non-union backed candidates is also funded exclusively by teachers’ unions and union-supported groups and is only required to report which unions funded them, not the dues-paying teachers.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office didn’t return multiple requests from Complete Colorado for comment as to whether she considers this divvying up of donations an example of the kind of ‘dark money’ in elections she campaigned against.

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