Campaign Finance Complaint Against Boulder County Commissioners Dismissed

December 14, 2018

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Elections Division has dismissed a complaint that alleged Boulder County commissioners and their staff violated state campaign-finance law by sending a news release opposing a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

Stephen Bouey, the Elections Division’s campaign finance manager, in a ruling issued Thursday said the office’s review found “there was no violation.”

Gary Cooper, a Republican who in November unsuccessfully ran for the for the District 3 commissioner seat, in an Oct. 29 complaint charged that commissioners’ Oct. 22 news release opposing Amendment 74 amounted to an illegal use of taxpayers’ funds to take a position on a ballot issue.

Amendment 74, which failed to pass in November, proposed requiring state or local governments to compensate private property owners if a law or regulation reduced properties’ fair market values.

Cooper alleged the news release was prepared by commissioners’ paid staff and sent out via a county-paid email system.

Bouey wrote that while Colorado law generally prohibits a political subdivision from spending any money to urge people to vote for or against a statewide ballot issues, there are exceptions.

“For instance, a commissioner with policy-making responsibilities can expend up to $50 of public money in the form of letters, telephone calls or other activities incidental to expressing his or her opinion on a statewide ballot issue,” Bouey said.

Based on information the state received from Boulder County during its investigation of Cooper’s complaint, the Elections Division concluded “the amount of public money spent falls within the acceptable limit allowed by Colorado law,” Bouey said. Information reviewed included the time it took to draft and post the anti-74 email, the hourly pay of staff members who reviewed and drafted the email and put it into the system for delivery, and the expense of the software system the county uses to electronically distribute information.

Assistant Boulder County Attorney Elizabeth Cross in a response emailed Thursday afternoon, said, “From the beginning, the county considered this below the threshold amount in the (Fair Campaign Practices Act) for elected officials to express their opinions.”

She said the Secretary of State’s Elections Division’s decision “confirms that.”

Cooper on Thursday said that while he was still unclear about what threshhold for county spending would have to have been reached to amount to a violation of the law, the Secretary of State’s staff “made their calculations” and subsequent decision to dismiss his complaint.

It’s now “a non-issue” as the result of that ruling, Cooper said, adding he appreciated the Election Division investigating before issuing a ruling.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc

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