Coffman Playing By Own Set of Rules

Just one day after issuing a stringent set of rules restricting political activities by employees of his office, Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman was the featured speaker at a Mesa County Republican Party event in Grand Junction.

“If it’s an event where money is raised, the Party controls where that money goes,” says Jonathan Tee, spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office. “The Secretary feels like that is perfectly legitimate.”Coffman has come under fire in recent weeks after it was revealed that Elections Technology Manager Dan Kopelman, a longtime confidant and political ally, was operating a side business that included the sale of voter information. Last Thursday Coffman’s office announced new rules restricting the political activities of office employees; one day later, he spoke at a monthly gathering of the Mesa County Republican Party. The cost of the event was $15 per person, although Mesa County Republican Party Chairman Gary Roahrig said today that the gathering was not a fundraiser (the charge covered the cost of lunch, according to Roahrig).

The restrictions announced last Thursday by Coffman’s office prohibit employees from working for or against a candidate for a partisan political office, including a political party, statewide ballot initiative or referendum. In a press release issued last week, Coffman said:

“I believe it is important for the Secretary of State, as the state’s chief elections official, to be held to the same high standards; so I will adhere to the same restrictions regarding endorsing or contributing to partisan candidates, statewide referendums and ballot initiatives.”

But Coffman does not hold himself to the exact same standards as other employees, as Tee explained.

“The Secretary is holding himself to these restrictions: He is not going to endorse a partisan candidate for office, and he is not going to contribute to a partisan campaign,” says Tee. “The code and this policy are focused on employees of this office who are either directly or indirectly involved in elections. And as a duly elected official, there is a difference between someone who is elected by the people and someone who is just an employee of the state.”

Tee says that Coffman can’t hold himself to the exact same restrictions as other employees, and cites as an example a prohibition on running for political office.

“He’s not going to adhere to all of those prohibited activities, because one of them is to not be a candidate for, or to hold, a partisan office,” he says. “He would be in violation of that right now, because he holds a partisan office.”

Democratic State Party Chair Pat Waak says that it was her presumption upon reading Coffman’s statement initially that he would hold himself to the same standards as the rest of his office. “I think we’re parsing words here,” she says.

“Coffman says ‘I’m a clean guy and I’m going to abide by these rules,’ and then he says ‘I’m not going to abide by all of the rules,'” says Waak. “To me, isn’t that kind of talking out of the other side of your face?”

Tee says that the purpose of the new restrictions is to make sure that “we don’t have any partisanship in our elections,” but if Coffman will apparently continue to headline Republican Party events, the lines between what is and is not permitted begin to blur.

“People aren’t dumb,” says Waak. “I personally am not going to show up at a political fundraiser if I were not endorsing their activities. Isn’t he speaking as a Republican elected official? That’s a major contribution

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Jason Bane

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