Contrary to her denials, as reported in today’s Denver Post, Secretary of State Gigi Dennis does indeed have the authority to investigate alleged campaign finance violations, argues Colorado Citizens for Ethics in Government (CCEG).
The new watchdog group recently asked Dennis to investigate whether Republican Bob Beauprez’s gubernatorial campaign violated campaign finance laws by accepting multiple contributions from limited liability companies (LLCs) operated by a single person.While CCEG has not received a formal reply to its request, Dennis’ spokeswoman has said that the secretary of state’s decision not to investigate was not partisan, and that the secretary lacks the authority to launch such investigations and that instead CCEG must file a formal complaint and go through a process that includes a hearing before an administrative law job.
Denver attorney Mark Grueskin, a local election law attorney who is representing unions and others in a separate case challenging new campaign finance rules issued by Dennis, in this case agreed with the secretary of state, telling the Post “She’s not really supposed to be investigating all these fact-specific complaints. Frankly, if this group wants to get it addressed, they need to put pen to paper and let the process take its course.”
But CCEG director Chantell Taylor says Dennis and Grueskin are looking at the wrong section of the law.
“Everybody’s citing a section of constituion that details the right for private citizens to bring a complaint. People are overlooking the secretary of state’s own rules” that give her the authority she needs, says Taylor.
Under section 28, part 9, the Colorado Constitution does provide opportunity for private citizens to bring complaints about campaign finance violations.
But Colorado election laws, parts 6.1 and 6.2 also explicitly give the secretary of state power to investigate violations. These rules say that the secretary of state can investigate if she discovers that there is a violation of campaign finance law and no private citizen has brought a formal complaint under the constitution.
6. Violations and Complaints
6.1 If the appropriate officer, as defined in Section 2(1) of Article XXVIII, discovers a possible violation of Article XXVIII or Title 1, Article 45, and no complaint alleging such violation has been filed with the secretary of state pursuant to Article XXVIII, Section 9(2)(a), then the appropriate officer shall:
a. Provide the person believed to have committed the violation with written notice of the facts or conduct that constitute the possible violation, and
b. Allow seven business days to correct the violation or to submit written statements explaining the reasons that support a conclusion that a violation was not committed.
6.2 If, within the time allotted pursuant to Rule 6.1, the person fails to correct the violation or to offer a satisfactory explanation, then the appropriate officer may file a complaint pursuant to Article XXVIII, Section 9(2)(a).
“The suggestion that the secretary of state is supposed to turn a blind eye when information is presented to her that campaign finance violations have occurred-well, that’s absurd,” says Taylor.
Taylor will be sending the secretary of state a letter outlining CCEG’s arguments. The group will wait to see what her response is before deciding whether to pursue legal action.