Activist coalition calls on Buck to release defense against FEC complaint

Campaign for a Strong Colorado, a coalition of progressive political groups in the state, is calling on U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck to release a document drafted by an attorney for his campaign defending him against a campaign finance complaint. The complaint (pdf), written by Charles Grice, has been public since it was filed with the Federal Election Commission in May. It has been the subject of discussion in the political blogosphere, on talk radio shows and in the mainstream press, but Buck has played down the charges leveled by Grice and Buck’s campaign denied requests by the Colorado Independent this month to make its defense public.

“In the interest of full disclosure, Buck should release the documents he filed with the FEC against the allegations,” said Ellen Dumm, Director of the Campaign for a Strong Colorado. “If Ken Buck wants the public’s trust, he should have the integrity to release his defense against these serious allegations. He says he wants to change politics. Here’s the perfect opportunity for him to be transparent…”

Grice supported former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton in the Republican Senate primary. Buck won the primary in August, however, and in the first week of September Grice sent a letter to the FEC asking to withdraw his complaint against Buck.

In the complaint, Grice charged that Buck had coordinated with friend and former employer Jerry Morgensen, CEO of Hensel Phelps Construction, to skirt campaign donation limits. Grice alleged that Buck reassured potential contributors that Morgensen would work to finance the Buck campaign mostly through independent so-called 527 groups. He also charged that Morgensen accompanied Buck to meetings with potential backers in which Morgensen told them he was willing to spend a million dollars to get Buck elected.

Walt Klein, Buck’s campaign consultant, dismissed the Grice complaint as politics as usual, referring to well-known gripes among politicos with the FEC, where campaign finance investigations drag on and on, the time lag allowing strategists to use the complaint process as a form of press release– that is, to make allegations that get picked up by the press but that are only officially put to rest long after elections have ended and the stakes have dissolved.

FEC officials told the Colorado Independent that they could release no documents until after a decision was reached in the case or until after the case was dismissed. The same officials said no decisions would come before the election in November. Partly for that reason, Dumm and other members of the coalition believe the case should be set before the public to judge and that the Buck defense document, drafted for the campaign by attorney Daniel Abramson, is a key piece of evidence missing from the public sphere. Buck is now running against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

Campaign finance and government watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch sent a letter (pdf) Wednesday asking the FEC to push forward with the investigation into Buck’s finances despite Grice’s request to withdraw his complaint.

“The Commission’s rules make no provision for withdrawal of a complaint after filing, and for good reason,” Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro wrote. “Allowing individuals to withdraw complaints would encourage the filing of meritless complaints for tactical reasons, only to be withdrawn later when the political landscape changed.”

Toro said conceding to Grice’s request would set a bad precedent and further diminish public faith in the Commission.

Members of the Strong Colorado coalition include Clean Water Action, the Colorado Progressive Coalition, Mi Familia Vota, New Era Colorado, OneColorado, Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, ProgressNow, the White House Project and the AFL/CIO’s Working America.

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