Colorado Democratic Party jumps on Buck ethics story

Measured by recent polls and delegate voting and media coverage, Weld County D.A. Ken Buck is now solidly out front in the heated GOP U.S. Senate primary race. In response, his opponent, onetime strong frontrunner and former Lt Governor Jane Norton, has seriously ramped up her attacks. Among the more serious, she has called Buck corrupt and drawn attention to a recent legal complaint that he is in collusion with wealthy donors to circumvent campaign finance laws. She has also drawn on long-simmering rumors about Buck’s tenure at the U.S. Attorney’s office. On a radio show recently, she said he left the office ten years ago “under a cloud of suspicion.”

The Denver Post waded into that cloud with a long piece Thursday for which Buck released the painful details of the “mistakes” he says he made. Now Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak has seized on the serpentine tale of prosecutors and politics and guns and money to call on Buck to step down as Weld County District Attorney and to essentially abandon the Senate race.

“Ken Buck isn’t fit to hold any public office, be it assistant US Attorney, Weld County District Attorney, or United States Senator. Mr. Buck has violated the trust of those who elected him and should resign from his position as district attorney immediately. Ken Buck has built a career by bypassing justice and ethics to reward political allies and campaign contributors. This repeated behavior makes it clear that he is unfit to hold public office or the people’s trust.”

Buck is not likely to either step down as District Attorney or shutter his campaign. He, at least, seems to have made peace with the episode and has clearly attempted to make a clean breast of it, talking openly to the Post in detail.

But the story of Buck’s Justice Department reprimand and exit from the U.S. Attorney’s office feeds narratives that will live long after the Post story fades. The fact is he worked as a prosecutor with the defense against a case built around a shady gun dealer with state GOP ties who is now a substantial donor to the Buck campaign. That’s not good news, and only partly because it sounds like a cliche Hollywood plot-line of political corruption. Fact is, Buck has benefited in his race against Norton by major spending in the form of advertisements paid for by anonymous political committees.

Norton has been making waves asking about Buck’s relationships with and knowledge of the contributors to those committees. There’s no reason to feel Buck alone among candidates should be held accountable for committee spending on his behalf. It’s a problem with U.S. election funding that the Supreme Court at least has gone out on a limb to protect against possible solutions.

But cast in the light of Buck’s dealings as a U.S. attorney with Greg Golyansky, the slippery Denver pawn shop owner and dealer in Saturday night specials, Buck’s campaign is tainted. That’s not to say, however, that conservative voters will now flee to Norton, the candidate associated most perhaps anywhere from coast to coast with the kind of sketchy Big Money lobbyists it would be hard for the best fiction writers to conjure as anything but caricature.

Safe to say, the releases that will be coming from Waak’s office for the next five months are already writing themselves.

This is the graph Waak included at the bottom of today’s dispatch:

As assistant US Attorney, Ken Buck refused to prosecute a prominent Republican donor and activist for illegally selling cheap handguns linked to dozens of violent crimes in Denver. When other prosecutors took up the case, Buck leaked highly confidential information to the defense, sabotaging the prosecution and letting his political allies off the hook. Buck was subsequently investigated, found guilty of ethics violations, and subsequently left the office under a dark ethical cloud. Despite twice running for District Attorney of Weld County, Buck hid this serious ethical scandal from his constituents. Now, that same defendant who he let off the hook has contributed repeatedly to Buck’s senate campaign, raising serious questions about whether Ken Buck can be trusted to hold public office.

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