Ethics complaint filed against Colo. secretary of state over purchases

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams has been called a national leader in election security. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

A complaint alleging Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams used state dollars for a wide variety of personal expenses has been filed with Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission.

The complaint, filed by Attorney Tyler J. Boschert of Sheridan Ross on Oct. 20, alleges Williams used state funds to pay for his private attorney’s license and clothing for an event at the Colorado State Fair.

The complaint may have been among the five complaints the ethics commission reviewed four days later, although the commission does not identify the subject of ethics complaints unless they find the allegations credible.

The commission decided on Oct. 24 to move forward with a complaint filed against Gov. John Hickenlooper, submitted by former Republican Speaker of the House Frank McNulty and his Public Trust Institute. The 189-page complaint alleged Hickenlooper improperly accepted airplane tickets and other travel expenses. His office dismissed the claim as a “political stunt.”

There were four other complaints listed on the commission’s Oct. 24 agenda that are still noted as “pending.” The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 19, after the election.

In the complaint, obtained by Colorado Politics, Boschert writes that “Williams has used the secretary of state’s discretionary fund for the purchase of numerous expensive clothing items for himself. In each of the three years from 2015 to 2017, Williams used state monies from the secretary of state’s discretionary fund for the purchase of personal items of clothing. Specifically, Mr. Williams was reimbursed from the discretionary fund at least for a $349.80 purchase of tuxedo pants, a $699.60 purchase of dress boots, and a $69.96 purchase of socks in 2015; a $327 purchase of jeans, a $475 purchase of a hat, and a $268.50 purchase of dress shirts in 2016; and a $238 purchase of a sport coat and dress shirt in 2017.” Those clothing items were intended for use at the Denver Rustlers charity fundraiser at the State Fair, an event that dates back to the mid-1980s.

The rules of the ethics commission are quite clear on timelines: Complaints must be filed within one year of the alleged violation. All of the purchases detailed above were made, according to the complaint, between July 2015 and April 2017, well outside that one-year timeline.

However, there are allegations that Williams also made improper purchases that fall within the one-year statute of limitations. That includes the use of the office’s discretionary fund to pay for Williams’ private law license fees in December 2017. That was a purchase of $325. Travel expenses totaling more than $1,400 for a trip to Philadelphia in July of this year are also alleged to have violated the ethics law, as well as payment of Colorado Bar Association dues in June, of $430. The Philadelphia trip was to attend the national conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Boschert said Williams “is not required to maintain his membership in the Colorado bar, attend CLEs or participate in the CBA to carry out his duties as secretary of state. Instead, Mr. Williams has maintained his bar membership for the sole purpose of continuing his private law practice, for the benefit of private clients, while serving as secretary of state, which he admits he has done and continues to do.”

Boschert claims Williams’ purchases may not only be unethical but criminal, and would render him ineligible to hold public office in Colorado. Boschert did not return a call for comment.

Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert told Colorado Politics that “all this information has been public for years. It was the subject of a records request by Colorado Ethics Watch in 2016 and has also been through a state audit that is approved by the legislature. Nobody filed a complaint then. These complaints are now well past the time for filing established by the voters in Amendment 41. This is clearly a political stunt timed for the election to detract from the positive work Secretary Williams has done over the past four years. It stretches the imagination that two attorneys who claim to care about ethics got together to file a complaint and didn’t even bother to read the law.” The other attorney is Kevin Cheney of Cheney, Galluzzi and Howard; the two have been associated since attending the CU Law School in 2013-14.

Staiert told Colorado Politics the office has paid for bar and association dues for all of the attorneys in the Secretary of State’s Office for years. “We testify as expert witnesses and dispositions” and conduct hearings in which it is a benefit to the people of Colorado to have a licensed lawyer, she said.

Williams is running for his second and final term as secretary of state.

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