UPDATE: On Sept. 25, Walker Stapleton said in a TV segment that Rocky Mountain Trust LLC is not the blind trust his campaign said it was in this May 25 story. Stapleton said the blind trust that should have been on the form is actually called the Walker R. Stapleton Blind Trust.
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton will be amending a financial disclosure form he filed with the state as part of his run for governor after The Colorado Independent questioned why the blind trust he said holds his assets was not listed on the form.
“We are filing a clarification,” said Stapleton’s campaign manager Michael Fortney following inquiries about the public document, which is called a personal financial disclosure statement and is required by candidates for state office in Colorado.
In question is Rocky Mountain Trust LLC, which incorporated after Stapleton, a political newcomer at the time, won office as state treasurer in 2010. Stapleton has said Rocky Mountain Trust is a “blind trust” – a tool some elected officials and others use to avoid potential conflicts of interest in their investments. The arrangements vary. In some blind trusts, the person who owns the assets is totally blind to what investments the trust holds. In others, they know what assets are, but are not involved with managing or making decisions about them.
As of May 25th, that trust also has been listed as delinquent since late February with the Secretary of State’s Office. Fortney said that likely means someone neglected to reregister it, an oversight he said someone with the trust would handle.
Stapleton’s campaign says despite Rocky Mountain Trust LLC not being mentioned on the form, it does exist and is the same one Stapleton has used since 2012, when he first reported it on his personal financial disclosures with the state. The Stapleton campaign will be sending a letter to the Secretary of State’s office amending the form to reflect that, Fortney said, adding, “Thank you for bringing that to our attention.”
“I set up the exact same structure that — because I actually talked with him about it — that John Hickenlooper set up when he became governor of Colorado,” Stapleton said in a recent interview with The Colorado Independent.
The personal financial disclosure form filed with the Secretary of State for his gubernatorial run lists more than two dozen assets under sources of income that include Denver Bank, to Kroger, to United Health Group. Others include SonomaWest, Stapleton Pharma, Cisco Systems, Wells Fargo, and Wyndham Worldwide. (View the form here.)
The listed assets on Stapleton’s gubernatorial form were nearly identical to those disclosed in a 2009 personal financial statement he filed when he was running for state treasurer, and also to one he filed in 2011 as the sitting state treasurer. An updated disclosure form he filed in January of 2012 reads, “All assets/investments have now been placed into a trust — Rocky Mountain Trust LLC. SonomaWest Holdings, previously public, is now a private investment.”
The annual reports Stapleton filed as state treasurer after that indicate the holdings remained in the trust.
Colorado’s disclosure forms, in general, offer scant insight into a candidate’s finances, because they don’t require details on how much they earn from their investments. The form asks where filers get their income, what properties they own, who their creditors are — if they owe more than $1,000 — and the interest rate. The forms do not show what filers owe. The form also asks about entities with which filers have a financial interest of more than $5,000, a list of entities they’re associated with that do business with the state, and any additional information they wish to disclose. These disclosures cover the person who files, and also his or her spouse and any minor children living with them, and they must be amended within 30 days if their finances change.
In Colorado, these forms are not checked or audited for accuracy by the Secretary of State’s office — officeholders and candidates are taken at their word that what they filed is correct. The office can, however, fine someone $50 per day for filing late, and intentionally not filing one is a misdemeanor.
In 2015, Colorado was dinged in a national corruption risk report by the Center for Public Integrity in part because of its enforcement gap and the lack of audits for such filings. (Disclosure: I researched and wrote the report. Colorado received a D+, ranking 14th in the nation, in the category of executive accountability.)
Stapleton told The Colorado Independent the reason he set up a trust in 2012 is that reporters questioned whether business he did with the bank Wells Fargo, which is a vendor of the state, would be a conflict as treasurer who would be in charge of choosing public financing firms for, say, a bond offering.
“In order to avoid any conflict of interest, a blind trust was the best thing that made sense,” he said.
Stapleton mentioned his assets are in a blind trust when asked by The Independent if he would release the past three years of his tax returns before the June 26 primary election for governor, in which he faces retired investment banker Doug Robinson, businessman Victor Mitchell, and former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez.
“I’m happy to release my tax returns but not from what’s in the blind trust because that violates the spirit of setting up the trust to begin with,” Stapleton said in a May 15 interview.
A Stapleton spokesman jumped in at the time to add that the campaign isn’t prepared to say what it would and wouldn’t disclose.
“I’m a sitting elected official in the state of Colorado who has taken pride in comporting himself with integrity through an ethical code since I started in office and I’m not going to violate that integrity or ethical code because I’m a candidate for another office,” Stapleton said in the context of releasing what assets are his blind trust. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Asked what he was doing for income beyond his public salary as state treasurer, Stapleton said he has “a lot” of passive business investments that are managed by others. “Do I have alternate sources of income? You bet I do,” he said. “And I would say that’s because of my business acumen, which Colorado needs more of, specifically in the governor’s office.”