Perennial media favorite State Rep. Douglas Bruce and Secretary of State Mike Coffman vie for “Miss December” honors in Colorado Ethics Watch’s 2008 round up of Colorado’s most corrupt public officials. The report released this week by Colorado Ethics Watch chronicles the ethical transgressions of some of Colorado’s most colorful political characters over the last year.
Highlights of the report include:
Secretary of State Mike Coffman
Secretary Coffman was nicked for two incidents. One, overlooking employee and political ally Dan Kopelman’s side business of selling voter data to GOP campaigns. Second, for failing to disclose the conflict of interest between Phase Line, a political consultant Coffman employed for his congressional campaign, who was simultaneously working for Premier Election Systems (formerly Diebold), the sole electronic voting system certified by the secretary of state.
Read Colorado Confidential’s coverage on Coffman’s escapades.
State Senator and Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany
Also dinged for two separate events, Sen. McElhany violated state law by accepting and failing to report a $2,700 gift from a GOP 527 political organization to support Colorado Senate News, an official communications Web site for the Senate Minority Office. The same Web site also illegally used the state seal which is reserved for very specific official purposes — a violation that mirrors a similar instance by Senate Republicans in 2003. As well, employees in McElhany’s office have also engaged in partisan political activity in the statehouse which is prohibited by law.
Read Colorado Confidential’s breaking news coverage.
State Representative Douglas Bruce
Rep. Bruce is a veritable cornucopia of unethical behavior. The mercurial Bruce was cited for being the first state legislator to be formally censured by the House of Representatives for kicking a Rocky Mountain News photographer just hours after being sworn into office. Bruce has a long and troubling history of housing ordinance violations for dilapidated properties he owns — for which he has repeatedly been called a slumlord both the press and conservative bloggers.
Read more about the antics of Rep. Bruce — who once referred to himself as a “terrorist.”
State Representative Wes McKinley
Fined $6,200 for repeatedly failing to comply with Colorado campaign finance law, Rep. Wes McKinley was finally called out for the infraction by an administrative law judge last year. The Walsh democrat received one of the largest fines imposed for a delinquent filing and then got smacked again just months later for another filing deadline violation.
Click here for reporting on Rep. McKinley from Colorado Confidential.
Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen
Physically assaulting a citizen at a public meeting can also land a politician on the naughty list. Comm. Darius Allen was accused of hitting an Alamosa County resident in the head and kicking him when he was down after the resident called him a “liar” in a public meeting. According to Colorado law, fights are prohibited “in a public place except in an amateur or professional contest of athletic skill.” Allen entered a plea agreement reducing the charges of third-degree assault and disorderly conduct to a single misdemeanor. He is required to take 12 hours of anger management classes and perform 24 hours of community service.
District Attorney Carol Chambers
Idle threats are also a no-no when it comes to ethical behavior by an officer of the court. Ms. Chambers got into hot water with the Colorado Supreme Court Attorney Regulation Counsel for threatening a plaintiff’s attorney and directing her office staff to investigate him when she learned he was suing a personal acquaintance. The long arm of the law prevailed and Ms. Chambers was formally censured and ordered to pay $1,600 in court costs. Ms. Chambers was again investigated by the Counsel for threatening with a work slow down after an Arapahoe County judge ruled against her office.
Read more about the Chambers investigation.
Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier
Timing is everything and Councilman Frazier’s receipt of $1,980 in campaign contributions which appear to be tied to his vote on a lucrative city contract landed him on CEW’s corruption list.
Fifteen gifts from partners of Carollo Engineers , each in the amount of $99, were accepted by Frazier’s campaign committee just weeks before a $9.6 million was awarded for a city water project. A week after the vote, Frazier received five more $99 campaign contributions from Carollo employees — the only Aurora City Council member to be the beneficiary of the firm’s largess.
Frazier is now being sued for refusing to respond to a resident’s open records request to inspect the Carollo contribution records.
Denver City Auditor Dennis Gallagher
Skirting the rules — especially when you’re the guy in charge of investigation and enforcement — sends up big red ethics flags.
Auditor Gallagher’s blunder occurred in 2007 when he paid $51,242 for political consulting to Prairie Fire Communications, a media consulting firm operated by Denis Berckefeldt, the city auditor’s own communications director whom he had personally appointed to the position four years earlier.
To make matters worse, Auditor Gallagher claimed that he was unaware of the legal requirement that city employees disclose and seek approval to operate outside business activities. When confronted with the conflict of interest, Gallagher granted Berckefeldt’s quickly completed request to moonlight. The official permission came more than a month after Gallagher won his re-election bid.
Black Hawk Mayor David Spellman
Probationer is typically not at the top of a candidate’s list of accomplishments to woo votes. In 2006, Spellman pleaded guilty to reduced charges of pistol-whipping his wife, using a gun while drunk and felony menacing with a weapon among other charges. He received a deferred sentence of four years probation.
Following the untimely death of the previous mayor, Black Hawk city council unanimously appointed Spellman to fill the top spot. After completing his first term, Spellman, a long-time politico in the casino town of 200 residents, was elected to the post earlier this month.
Wheat Ridge City Councilman Terry Womble
Long gone are the days of prank phone calls about Prince Albert in the can and running refrigerators. Womble, using a false name, placed a harrassing call to the superiors of a fellow council member alleging poor work performance at her place of employment as political payback for a series of disagreements at council meetings.
Womble was found out and charged with misdemeanor harrassment for which he is currently on a one-year deferred sentence. Wheat Ridge mayor and city council strongly suggested that Womble resign his seat over the matter. He has refused.
Colorado State Board of Education Member Bob Schaffer
Schaffer received the “Dishonorable Mention” award for failing to recuse himself from votes.
One conflict of interest stems from campaign contributions Schaffer received from David and Ann Brennan, who operate White Hat Management — an embattled charter school firm that runs 50 Life Skills Centers around the nation. When the Denver Public School Board voted to close its poor-performing school, Life Skills appealed to the Colorado State Board of Education. Schaffer cast the the tie-breaking vote, forcing the Denver schools to continue the Life Skills program, and thus White Hat’s dip into an estimated $8 million in tax money shunted from the local public schools since 2003.
Schaffer has also previously failed to disclose conflicts of interest in other state board votes regarding Poudre School District charter schools, where his wife is a board member and their son is a student.
The Colorado State Board of Education has since adopted an ethics policy though critics contend it is weak and easily circumvented by ignoring conflicts of interest when the member’s vote is needed to achieve a quorum.
Read the full report at Colorado Ethics Watch.