The chairman of the Weld County Republican Party on Friday filed complaints with state officials alleging a corrupt scheme to alter the results of party caucus elections by four county GOP officers, including a congressional aide employed by U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the Colorado Republican Party chairman.
Will Sander, the Weld County GOP chairman, told Colorado Politics that the party determined in March that a precinct committeewoman "intentionally changed the results" of caucus elections, replacing three "duly elected delegates" to the county assembly with three party officers in a state database. The discrepancies, he said, were discovered during a routine audit conducted days after the March 7 precinct caucuses.
It's the latest set of allegations involving party election irregularities to involve Buck, who has taken heat from Republicans in recent weeks for the state party's attempts to add a second candidate to a GOP primary for an El Paso County legislative seat.
“While I know a lot of people would like this swept under the rug, I think it’s very, very important,” said Sander, referring to allegations surrounding the Weld County caucus results. “After getting no support at the state level, I felt I had no other choice but to file a complaint. You see the corruption in our election process, the public won’t stand for it. The elected officials won’t stand for it. And frankly, I believe it’s against the law.”
In an exclusive interview with Colorado Politics on Friday, Buck said that he hasn't had any involvement with the matter "on purpose, because one of my staffers was involved," adding that he encouraged Sander to reach out to the state party's executive director for any help.
In a series of formal complaints to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office first reported by The Colorado Sun, Sander said the county party's second vice-chair Lois Rice and district captains Cody LeBlanc and Todd Sargent had Evelyn Harlan enter their names as delegates in the Colorado State Party Caucus Database, bumping the elected delegates to alternate status. Harlan, the complaints charge, "fraudulently" used her son's password to access the system, which she wasn't authorized to use.
"This is clearly a fraudulent, dishonest and corrupt act amongst four long-term Weld County Republicans who knew better," the complaints say. "Their action, had it not been caught, would have disenfranchised elected delegates."
LeBlanc works for Buck's congressional office as an area representative for Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder and Weld Counties and is an elected member of the Weld Re-8 Board of Education.
"This whole issue of linking me to the Weld County issue is unfair," Buck said. "To raise the issue now with the timing of it on the heels of the El Paso issue, it looks bad, obviously, but I had no involvement, I did not interfere at all in any process, and I did not fail to support whatever requests were made by Weld County. I set up a line of communication that purposely bypassed me so that the county chair and the executive director (of the state party) had a direct line of communication, and they spoke a number of times over the past few months."
Buck said that he has tried to help Sander "bridge divides" within the county party, including by providing extra tickets to President Trump's Feb. 22 rally in Colorado Springs to hand out to party members. He added that he believes news coverage attempting to involve Buck in the controversy "is unnecessary piling on" and was unfair to the Republicans named in the complaints Sander filed, including his congressional aide.
"Here's a kid that’s 22 years old that is just fired up about politics, and now his name is being thrown around in statewide newspapers," Buck said.
LeBlanc, Rice, Sargent and Harlen didn't respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Buck also insisted that a report by an ad hoc committee appointed by Sander to investigate the allegations had "cleared" the Republicans named in the complaints, but a member of the committee told Colorado Politics that isn't accurate.
"We never got the full rundown exactly what did happen," Joe Bodine said. "We never did get all the paperwork that was submitted, but we understood that something did happen, but not what was behind all that. There was no exoneration per se, but there wasn’t any hard evidence there was any wrongdoing. That’s kind of where we left it."
He added that a "draft based on some of our initial findings that wasn't a final report at all somehow got leaked," but that it would be wrong to draw any conclusions from the document, since the panel hadn't completed its investigation.
Also on Friday, a liberal advocacy organization asked the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation to consider revoking Buck's license to practice law, pointing to instructions Buck delivered last month to an El Paso County GOP officer, as first reported by Colorado Politics.
Eli Bremer, the Republican Senate District 10 chairman and a former El Paso County GOP chairman, said Buck pressured him to file a false document with state officials swearing that a candidate got 30% of the vote at the April 22 district assembly, even though the candidate only received 24% of delegate votes, falling short of the threshold for inclusion on the primary ballot.
The district assembly, which was held online to comply with restrictions on public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, designated state Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, as the sole candidate in the primary for the seat held by term-limited state Sen. Owen Hill. Days later, another candidate, longtime party activist David Stiver, filed a complaint with the state party alleging he was treated unfairly and should have also made the ballot.
After the state GOP's governing bodies voted to add Stiver to the primary, Buck asked Bremer whether he understood what the party had decided, but in an audio recording first released by Colorado Politics, Bremer objected, saying that what Buck was ordering him to do would be illegal.
Former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Colorado Springs city councilman, agreed with Bremer, telling Colorado Politics that Buck was putting Bremer in an impossible situation.
"The only way you can submit paperwork showing (Stiver) getting on the ballot is by lying," Williams said. "If you submit a form saying someone got 24% of the vote, that doesn't put him on the ballot. There's not a way to submit a form honestly that does what they say he has to do."
A Bremer ally took the case to court, asking a Denver District Court judge to decide whether Bremer could comply with the state GOP's instructions without breaking the law. The judge ruled last week that he couldn't. The Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear the state Republican Party's appeal, letting the ruling stand.
Based on those rulings, Ian Silverii, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, said Friday that Buck, a former Weld County district attorney and member of the House Judiciary Committee, should lose his law license.
“As the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, Buck’s flagrant disregard for Colorado election law shows he can’t be trusted in that position,” Silverii said in a press release. “As a member of Congress, former prosecutor, and licensed Colorado attorney, suborning perjury as Buck appears to have done in this case is nothing short of disqualifying. It’s time for Buck to surrender his law license, and cooperate fully with the investigations that seem imminent today.”
Silverii said the organization has also asked for an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee.
Buck declined through a spokesman to comment on the ProgressNow Colorado complaint but told Colorado Politics on Friday that the controversy over the Senate District 10 primary was overblown and missing the point.
"In fairness, the way that a lot of us look at this process is this is the Republican Party putting names on the primary ballot, with the winner ultimately to be chosen for the general election ballot," Buck said. "And if there are irregularities in the process, the Republican Party has a procedure to address that." That procedure, he noted, involves appealing disputed assembly results to the state party's executive and central committees, which is what Stiver and several allies did.
"Now, I understand Eli Bremer‘s position and Wayne Williams' position, and it turns out the District Court judge agrees with them, and I respect that," Buck said.
"There was a legitimate disagreement in the Republican Party, and it was resolved by the district court. What I have a problem with is when people start throwing around words ‘suborning perjury,’ that somehow, I had this intent to break the law — and nothing could be further from the truth. I was representing the central committee and trying to make sure that the will of the central committee was followed."