Colorado General Assembly

Members of the state House are sworn in Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, during the opening day of the 2017 Colorado State Legislature at the state Capitol in Denver.

Some staffers who work for Colorado state lawmakers are getting money from a source other than their paychecks: Political committees that support campaigns and causes.

And in a recent case, that extra money came from a political source with family ties to the staffer's boss.

A political action committee controlled by the brother of Colorado state House Minority Leader Patrick Neville paid $4,000 in donor funds to Neville's chief of staff for non-specified consultant work, according to new campaign finance filings with the state.

Colorado Liberty PAC, one of at least six active committees controlled by Patrick Neville's brother, Joe Neville, paid the money to Jim Pfaff, Patrick Neville's chief of staff, in the most recent reporting period that ran between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to filings Oct. 9 on the TRACER campaign-finance database maintained by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold's office.

The filings do not spell out what Pfaff did for that $4,000, which came through two separate payments. Pfaff is paid $90,000 a year as chief of staff to Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock.

When contacted by Colorado Politics for an explanation, Pfaff declined to say what he did for that $4,000.

In an email to Colorado Politics, Pfaff said this: "I know it's of utmost importance for you and your liberal friends to document for your readers all the details about our political operations. That's not happening. It's also abundantly clear you would get your journalistic jollies being able to say in print I didn't respond. You have my response. And I expect it to be printed in its entirety."

State law appears to allow the practice of legislative aides receiving outside money from campaign groups, although they are  prohibited from working on political causes during their regular state-paid work time.

Outside of office hours, what state employees do on their own time is legal, officials said.

But Hana Callaghan, director of the government ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California, says there should be a "hard line" between politics and government work.

"When someone is elected, they're elected to represent all constituents, not just the party that voted them in," Callaghan said. "[Legislative] staff, who are paid by tax dollars, also have a duty to the public that they serve. They hold a position of trust, which means a fiduciary duty of loyalty."

As it turns out, payments from political committees to partisan staff of the General Assembly aren't that unusual.

James Lucero, who has been a staff member for both the House and Senate Democrats for several years, received a $2,800 payment, identified only as a "campaign win bonus," from the Committee to Elect Leroy Garcia last Dec. 12 while he was also on the full-time payroll of the Senate Democrats. (He's now the chief of staff for Garcia, D-Pueblo, the Senate's president.)

Lucero received no other payments for employee services or consultant work from the committee during the 2018 election cycle. Lucero was Garcia's campaign manager for his first election to the Senate in 2014.

Garcia so far has not returned a request for comment.

Karlin Gray, the assistant and adviser to state Speaker of the House KC Becker, D-Boulder, was paid $875 for unspecified employee services to Becker's campaign committee in 2018, filings with the state show. That included a $700 payment for employee services on May 9, the last day of the 2018 session, when she also was Becker's legislative aide. Gray now earns $54,500 as assistant to the speaker.

Becker said in a statement to Colorado Politics that the payments were to boost Gray's low legislative-aide pay in 2018.

While legislative aides are paid by the General Assembly, state law allows campaign funds to be used for "any expenses that are directly related to such person's official duties as an elected official." Some lawmakers give their aides additional money due to low pay.

Beginning in 2019, legislative leaders boosted pay for legislative aides to a minimum of $15 per hour to help address that issue.

Susan Raplee, the office director for the House GOP, was paid $3,000 by the Colorado Liberty PAC and Values First Colorado, both controlled by Joe Neville, between September 2018 and January of this year for data and compliance services, according to state filings. She also received $500 for compliance work in 2018 from a political committee controlled by state Rep. Susan Beckman of Littleton.

And the company owned by Sage Naumann, the communications spokesperson for the Senate GOP, was paid $750 in 2018 from the state GOP independent expenditure committee to create digital ads for the 2018 campaign, filings indicate. He is paid $69,622 annually.

Naumann said he created those ads on his own time, often very late at night. "I didn't get much sleep" last campaign season, he said.

While such payments are not unheard of, Sharon Eubanks, director of the General Assembly's Office of Legislative Legal Services, said that using state time or resources on behalf of campaigns or political committees becomes in effect a campaign contribution of those state resources, which isn't legal.

She said the same rules apply to partisan legislative staffers as well as state employees in general: They cannot use on-the-job time or other state resources for partisan activities. These rules are spelled out in the employee handbook that is provided to General Assembly employees, including the partisan staff.

In particular, Colorado law prohibits state employees from using state resources such as telephones, faxes, computers, email and bulletin boards for partisan political activities, according to a fact sheet produced by the Department of Personnel and Administration.

DPA spokesman Doug Platt agreed with Eubanks that legislative employees can't use their state-paid time for partisan activities.

The offices of Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Attorney General Phil Weiser referred questions about the practice to Eubanks.

The state situation parallels rules for congressional staffers.

Peg Perl, a former attorney for Colorado Ethics Watch, once worked for the U.S. House Ethics Committee. She said she would recommend that people who work in congressional staff offices and who also work on political campaigns keep time sheets to document the hours they spend on campaign activity. Official work, paid by public funds, should be completely separate from political work, she said.

Callaghan, who has worked for a member of Congress as a staffer, said it isn't legal at the federal level for a congressional staff member to work on political campaigns on government time, she said. "Some members of Congress do allow it for staff who do that kind of work on their own time."

Correction: An earlier version misidentified Susan Raplee's title and annual salary. The House GOP office has refused to provide her salary information.

(2) comments

Guest J.D. Ruybal

Update: We Found a "Staggering" 281 Lobbyists Who've Worked ...

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GuestJ.D. Ruybal

Salaried staffers being paid extra by political committees is just another indicator of how the line between our elected officials and special interest groups - corporations and the like are becoming nonexistent. Bribery,retribution,purchasing and Big Money in our local, state and federal institutions/capitals and in our Judaical system is Not a unifier you know as in “United States” “We the people”.

Oligarch or absolute monarchy. Our choice.

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