Suzanne Staiert

Suzanne Staiert

In John Hickenlooper’s desperation to find anyone to blame but himself for his ethics problems, I suppose it should come as no surprise he eventually would land his sights on the person who presented the case against him before the state's Independent Ethics Commission. Unfortunately for me, it was my turn.

It started with a campaign finance complaint about my personal financial disclosures. That’s a filing anyone running for office must make with the secretary of state. I’m running for a state Senate seat, and I filed mine in August of last year. The law allows two kinds of filings. One is a form that discloses only sources of income and obligations. The other is a tax return that discloses that and a lot more. After having lived through years of the tax return wars where candidates were hounded for this information, I decided to offer mine up. You’d think I’d be credited for being transparent. Nope.

In May a complaint came from someone outside my district proclaiming candidates weren’t allowed to file tax returns; this option was available only for incumbents. Instead of filing a tax return, I should file a form that summarizes my tax return without the pesky numbers. Never mind that the law says “any person” subject to the section can file a tax return; never mind that making the option available only to incumbents would be unconstitutional and never mind that tax returns actually provide more information. This Democrat activist who doesn’t live in my district had a point to make. Or maybe it was the person who wrote the complaint for her. After all, the last time she filed a complaint, in 2018, it was drafted by Mark Grueskin, a top Democrat lawyer who also happened to be representing Hickenlooper on the ethics complaints at $525 an hour in taxpayer funds out of federal 9/11 recovery funds.

I filed a response to the complaint and I also filed the disclosure form; so now I’ve filed twice. I have nothing to hide. I don’t have investments beyond my retirement account and a mortgaged home. I don’t have a blind trust fund or any trust fund at all. Like 99% of single parents, I don’t have a lot of financial assets. Instead I have kids.

The only additional information on the form is the income of other people in my household, so I guess now if voters are interested they can find out where my children work and the interest rates on their student loans. Not surprisingly, despite actively shopping this story around it didn’t get any play until now.

The problem with reporters who develop a narrative before they start writing is that the facts get in the way. That’s what happened in a recent Colorado Politics story about this non-event, so the facts had to be sacrificed ("Ethics problems once again plague Independent Ethics Commission," June 22). Reading the story you’d think I’d never filed a single disclosure, let alone two, and you would be led to believe that filing this form was of the utmost importance because it would show my income. None of this is true. I disclosed everything in August and the second form I filed doesn’t even show my income. I am left to conclude the reporter did not review a single public document firsthand. Not my tax return, not my response to the complaint and not the follow-up disclosure form. And when I asked her to report these facts? Crickets.

The other key to running an attack piece is to string a bunch of unrelated subjects together in hopes something sticks. So, the article also goes after a longtime professional relationship with Debra Johnson, one of the commissioners on the ethics commission. It’s fair to say that relationship came as a surprise to nobody. I was the deputy secretary of state and she was the Denver county clerk. I’ve worked for her and we crossed paths in Aurora years ago.

I also recommended her for the ethics commission. That’s because in May of 2018, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville asked me for a recommendation for an appointment by the speaker of the House. My first choice was rejected by the speaker because, as it was explained to me, she wanted diversity on the commission. My recommended candidate was highly qualified and diverse, but he was unaffiliated, which was the likely disqualifier. In his place I recommended Debra Johnson, another qualified candidate and registered Democrat who has been a longtime advocate in the LGBTQ community.

In August of 2019 when I announced I was running for Senate, she donated $100 to my campaign. At that point I didn’t know what my professional future held, and I didn’t anticipate becoming involved in the Hickenlooper case. But reading the article one would think we are inseparable BFF’s. You might also think the donation had been hidden. Except it was disclosed on my public campaign finance reports. Finally, you might think that I was the one before the commission instead of a lawyer presenting a case. The reality is that if Hickenlooper thought this such a problem, he could have used his endless resources to bring it up at the hearing or in one of the many, many motions he filed trying to delay and obstruct the proceedings.

None of this would matter and this disjointed article would never have been pitched and written except I crossed John Hickenlooper and now his angry supporters are responding. This is all to avoid owning up to his own ethical failings.

For a guy who has spent years touting his clean, positive campaigns Hickenlooper sure knows how to play dirty.

Suzanne Staiert is a former Colorado deputy secretary of state and an attorney who has practiced in state and local government for over 20 years. She is currently a Republican candidate for the Colorado Senate.

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