Winning Republican politicians in Weld County this past November won twice, according to December campaign finance reports, with politicians buying computers and office furniture, expensing years worth of mileage and paying for Denver apartments for the upcoming legislative session with campaign donations.
In some cases, the spending falls well within the realm of acceptable campaign expenditures, including state Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, who spent more than $3,000 on a computer, printer and monitor, and another $2,000 on office furniture from Woodley’s Fine Furniture after winning re-election to Senate District 13.
Colorado Campaign Finance law explicitly allows spending for official duties, including the purchase or lease of office equipment and supplies.
That covers state Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Greeley, who won re-election to House District 48 and then spent more than $2,000 on a laptop computer, video equipment and editing software Humphrey said he’ll use to record and post committee meetings.
Other post-election campaign spending raises questions and highlights differences between federal campaign finance laws and those in Colorado.
State Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor, won re-election to House District 49 then promptly spent $4,000 to pay the rent and utilities for her Denver apartment for the upcoming 2019 legislative session.
Federal law prohibits spending campaign money for personal use and calls mortgage, rent and utility payments "automatic" personal-use spending.
Buck said in a phone interview Saturday she previously cleared the spending with former Secretary of State Scott Gessler and current Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
"There’s a rule down at the Legislature that you can use campaign monies to do whatever helps you be a better legislator," Buck said. "For me to drive back and forth makes no sense."
Williams said Colorado politicians can spend campaign money on anything that helps them do their jobs, adding many politicians use campaign money for apartments or even to pay additional legislative aides.
“When it comes to campaign expenses, the state is pretty flexible,” Williams said. “Ultimately, you don’t want the government telling you how to spend your campaign dollars. You start getting into First Amendment issues.”
Gessler didn’t return a phone message seeking comment, but the following section of the Fair Campaign Practices Act explains these allowable expenses further:
"Any expenses that are directly related to such person’s official duties as an elected official, including but not limited to, expenses for the purchase of lease of office equipment and supplies, room rental for public meetings, necessary travel and lodging expenses for legislative education such as seminars, conferences, and meetings on legislative issues, and telephone and pager expenses."
State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, after winning re-election to Senate District 1 paid himself $12,668.93, claiming mileage reimbursement for 23,246 miles in the past four years.
Based on calculations, the mileage appears to represent about half the weekday trips between Denver and Sterling in the past four years. It’s acceptable for politicians to use campaign cash for travel and lodging, but Sonnenberg also is eligible for about $18,000 in per diem for mileage, meals and other incidentals. It’s unclear whether Sonnenberg takes the full per diem amount, but the most recent time his per diem was scrutinized, in a 2010 Denver Post story, Sonnenberg took the full $18,000.
Sonnenberg didn’t return a phone message seeking comment on the mileage reimbursements.
Treasurer-elect Dave Young, a Democrat, didn’t have any late spending, apart from paying campaign-related bills for advertising. But he could face a fine of $1,750 for late filing of a campaign finance report.
The campaign finance reports
House District 48
*Steve Humphrey, Republican
Total raised — $7,400
Notable — Humphrey spent $1,669.99 on a laptop on Nov. 26, three weeks after election day. He also spent $351.84 on video equipment and $191.88 on an Adobe software subscription after the election.
Gbenga Ajiboye, Democrat
Total raised — $10,442.71
Notable — Ajiboye spent $1,136.59 in the days leading up to the election to send text messages to voters, paying the Colorado Democratic Party for the service.
House District 49
*Perry Buck, Republican
Total raised — $16,750
Notable — Buck spent $4,000 in campaign money on rent and utilities, paying the money to Denver-based METREX Property Group, which bills itself as a boutique property management company offering quality apartment living. (Campaign finance violation).
Connor Duffy, Democrat
Total raised — $7,405.17
Notable — Duffy donated $1,554.32 to his own campaign after the election.
House District 50
*Rochelle Galindo, Democrat
Total raised — $150,091.45
Notable — Galindo spent $7,750 on video advertising, including $4,000 for digital TV spots.
Michael Thuener, Republican
Total raised — $46,605.50
Notable — Thuener spent $2,705.37 on mailers leading up to the election.
House District 63
*Lori Saine, Republican
Total raised — $16,240
Notable — Saine spent more than $2,000 in campaign cash on travel and lodging to various conferences before and after the election. She also paid a $50 fine for late filing.
Brandon Bobian, Democrat
Total raised — $10,687.50
Notable — Bobian spent more than $350 on Facebook advertising in the most recent filing period.
Senate District 1
*Jerry Sonnenberg, Republican
Total raised — $41,210
Notable — Sonnenberg paid himself $12,668.93, claiming mileage reimbursement for 23,246 miles in the past four years. Sonnenberg also had to pay a $50 fine for late filing on a major contributor report.
Debra Gustafson, Democrat
Total raised — $4,799.85
Notable — Gustafson spent more than $200 on travel and lodging, including $61 after the election.
Senate District 13
*John Cooke, Republican
Total raised — $65,336.31
Notable — Cooke spent $3,289.35 on a computer, printer, monitor and other office equipment, and $1,958.34 for office furniture three weeks after the election.
Phil Kelley, Democrat
Total raised — $5,549
Notable — Kelley spent about $500 on rooms and entertainment at the Doubletree downtown Greeley hotel on Election Night.
Weld County Commissioner At-Large
*Steve Moreno, Republican
Total raised — $32,143.70
Notable — Moreno spent about $600 on Election Night entertainment, including Kenny’s Steakhouse and The Tavern at St. Michael’s Square.
Carl Erickson, Democrat
Total raised — $1,942
Notable — Erickson spent about $100 on Election Night entertainment at the Kress Cinema and Lounge.
Lynette Kilpatrick, American Constitution Party
Total raised — $817.43
Notable — Kilpatrick had just one donation on record in the final filing period: $300 from Rebecca Koppes Conway. Conway’s husband, Sean Conway, is on the Board of Weld County Commissioners with Moreno.
Weld County Commissioner District 2
*Scott James, Republican
Total raised — $59,310.40
Notable — James had to pay a $50 fine for filing his November campaign finance report one day late. He also spent $68 on bank overdraft fees.
Duane Leise, Democrat
Total raised — $7,410
Notable — Leise was penalized $250 for late filing.
Weld County Clerk and Recorder
*Carly Koppes, Republican
Total raised — $20,217.69
Notable — Koppes spent $1,834 on text messages. Koppes also had to pay a $50 fine for late filing.
Susie Velasquez, Democrat
Total raised — $14,504
Notable — Velasquez spent $861 on a radio ad in the days before the election. Velasquez also had to pay a $50 fine for late filing.
Weld County Sheriff
*Steve Reams, Republican
Total raised — $5,401.09
Notable — Reams’ final report had just one expenditure: $81.47 for consultant and professional services.
Weld County Assessor
*Brenda Dones, Republican
Total raised — $11,500
Notable — Dones spent $549.11 on a victory party in Johnstown.
— Tyler Silvy is the deputy editor for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.