Boulder clerk finds ‘probable cause’ of campaign finance violations

Thursday, January 27, 2022

A lawsuit against former council candidate Steven Rosenblum may have merit, according to the Boulder city clerk, but more information is needed to determine whether campaign finance rules were broken. A hearing has been scheduled to determine whether or not legal costs – for an action against supporters of opponents of Rosenblum – should be counted as campaign costs.

In September, Rosenblum filed a lawsuit against the leaders of Boulder Progressives, the local chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Bedrooms Are for People campaign, on social media and online posts that amplified Safer Boulder’s leaked Slack conversations, including including Rosenblum publications. The lawsuit alleged a conspiracy to prevent various political groups from endorsing Rosenblum, as well as defamation related to the leaks.

A group of residents argued that the focus on endorsements is why Rosenblum’s legal fees should be counted as campaign expenses. Applicants are required to disclose all expenses and keep them under a certain amount in order to qualify for city matching funds.

Mark McIntyre, Jane Hummer and Regina Cowles — all of whom are loosely affiliated with various political groups that backed four of Rosenblum’s opponents — filed a formal complaint with the city a week after Rosenblum’s lawsuit went to court.

In response to their complaint, Rosenblum wrote that the lawsuit was unrelated to his campaign.

“I signed on (Stan Garnett, of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck) as an individual, not on behalf of my campaign,” Rosenblum wrote. (Garnett corroborated this in a letter to the city.)

The timing of the trial was not related to the election, he continued, but because of Colorado’s “one-year statute of limitations for defamation claims.” A blog containing leaked material from the Safer Boulder Slack was first published in October 2020; the anonymous lessor is named in Rosenblum’s lawsuit as John Doe.

“The legal work I hired Brownstein to do was not political strategy and had nothing to do with my campaign,” Rosenblum concluded. “The City of Boulder should be wary of accepting campaign finance complaints of this nature and requiring that candidates’ personal legal services be disclosed as campaign expenses.

“If all of a candidate’s personal legal work during a campaign were considered a campaign expense, it would be impossible for candidates to defend themselves in personal lawsuits during a political campaign.”

In a Dec. 7 letter from the city clerk’s office, Elesha Johnson wrote that “there is probable cause that there may be a violation, and additional facts are required to make a final determination (if) the litigation, or any part thereof, was filed primarily for the benefit of Steve Rosenblum as a candidate and not for the benefit of Steve Rosenblum as an individual.

A hearing is set for February 14; Boulder City Judge Linda Cooke will make a ruling. Any penalties will be determined by the city clerk’s office and could include forcing Rosenblum to repay matching funds.

Johnson did not find probable cause for other allegations included in the Cowles/Hummer/McIntyre complaint, including improper disclosure of personal investments and withholding of Garnett’s business for lobbying and/or of public relations.

Another campaign, another violation

Another campaign was found to be in violation of campaign finance rules following a complaint from opposing campaign organizers. Save CU South – a group that opposes annexation of this property – did not disclose major donors in two media announcements, the city clerk said.

In his determination, Johnson wrote that the advertisements in the Daily camera and weekly block the election guides “should have included disclosure by key contributors Thomas Mayer and Alan Boles” who each donated $1,000.

“Recording CU South’s self-healing of refunding $1 to each contributor, thereby reducing their contribution below the $1,000 threshold for reporting top contributors, is not acceptable,” Johnson wrote. “The remedies are not determined by the committee and this proposed action does not provide a remedy and lacks transparency for the public.”

Johnson ordered the campaign to publish clerk-approved disclosures in both newspapers acknowledging the violations.

A second allegation that these contributions should have been included on the signs was not valid, Johnson wrote, because the money came after the signs were ordered.

Save CU South was arguing for a “yes” vote on ballot question 302, which failed. The complaint was filed by Leslie Durgin, Suzy Ageton and Jon Carroll. Carroll and Durgin organized Protect Our Neighbors to oppose 302.

— Shay’s Castle, @shayshinecastle

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