Donors financing state treasurer’s race change candidates amid sexual harassment investigation
A pending sexual harassment investigation is having a lasting impact on lawmaker’s bid for higher office as donors seek the Democratic candidate with the best odds of winning
As House leadership continues its investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat who is running for state treasurer, donors who have abandoned him say they had to make a hard-nosed political calculation: They want a Democrat who can win the treasurer’s office. Lebsock, they say, has already lost too much ground.
“People do like to place their bets on horses that they think are going to win,” said Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, who donated $650 to Lebsock’s campaign before the allegations became public. “And Steve’s chances are looking pretty thin.”
House leadership is reviewing at least three formal complaints of sexual harassment, which Lebsock has repeatedly denied as false and politically motivated. The allegations are under review, but the court of public opinion can issue judgments faster than due process.
Lebsock has not reported a single contribution since at least 10 women publicly accused him of sexual harassment in mid-November. He reported raising $1,025 in last quarter’s reporting period, down from $12,350 in the previous quarter.
At least five of his donors, including Hooten, have since switched their support to Lebsock’s Democratic challenger Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley. Young, who is chair of the Appropriations Committee and member of the Joint Budget Committee, joined the race on Oct. 31.
“I just hope the process works itself out fairly,” said Michael Feeley, a lobbyist who served in the legislature as Senate Minority Leader from 1994 to 2001 and who supported Lebsock before the allegations became public. “I think it’s very difficult for Steve to succeed in this race now. Whether that’s fair or not, I don’t know.”
Feeley and Lebsock both served in the U.S. Marine Corps. “That’s one of the reasons we liked one another. That’s tough,” Feeley said.
On Monday morning, Lebsock held a calendar he said his ex-wife sent to him. He said her hand-written notes show he was home by 1:30 p.m on March 24, 2015. Around this time, Cassie Tanner, a former legislative aide, alleges Lebsock opened a button on her shirt at The 1up bar in Denver.
“If you are falsely accused of sexual harassment that is going to affect your fundraising,” Lebsock said. But he said the truth will come out, aided in part by a YouTube video he’s sharing on social media. “I feel really good about my treasurer’s race.”
But Lebsock’s public denial has not persuaded donors.
Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who alleges Lebsock used vulgar language, grabbed her arm, and tried to get her to go home with him at Stoney’s Bar in 2016, filed a formal complaint. Lebsock took a lie detector test after the allegation. He used the results to argue he was innocent.
Attorney Aaron Goldhamer donated to Lebsock in late July when Lebsock was the only Democrat in the race. Goldhamer since has donated to Young, and said that while he believes in due process, he also has no reason to doubt Winter’s claims. He said he was concerned not only by the allegations against Lebsock, but also by the tenor of lawmaker’s response to those allegations, including the polygraph test.
“It’s just not reliable evidence. That was an added turnoff,” Goldhamer said.
Lebsock is still in the race and is staying busy in the Capitol with bills concerning fiscal policy. One bill would increase the state’s general fund reserve. Another offers a revenue-neutral fix to a bill that cut off marijuana sales tax revenue to special districts during the last session. He said over 60 percent of the bills he introduced have passed during his first five years in the legislature.
“What will be interesting is how many [of my] bills the House Democrats try to kill this year,” Lebsock said, who is no longer caucusing with the Democrats. “I think the people of Colorado will see that there is something political going on.”
Other lawmakers jockeying for the state treasurer seat include Reps. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, Justin Everett, R-Littleton, and Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.
Lawrence raised the most of the bunch, reporting $55,989 in donations for the three-month reporting period. But there are 10 contenders seeking the Treasurer’s office. And so far, GOP businessman Brian Watson is out-raising them all, bringing in $214,614 during the reporting period, according to state campaign finance reports.
Top image: Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, on the opening day of the 2018 legislative session. Photo by John Herrick.
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