El Paso County Commissioners Cami Bremer and Holly Williams may be in the clear in a campaign finance violations case, but the nonprofit donated to them is facing greater scrutiny.
In two separate motions made June 10, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office asked Deputy Secretary of State Christopher Beall to dismiss complaints alleging Bremer and Williams violated campaign finance law by accepting donations from a nonprofit.
The office said it found Bremer and Williams, who are both running for reelection this year as El Paso County commissioners, cured the violations and “substantially complied with their legal obligations under Colorado campaign and political finance laws.”
Civic nonprofit Colorado Springs Forward donated $5,000 to each of the commissioners in September. The donation was prohibited under state law, the Secretary of State’s Office said in letters to both candidates. The checks were also over the $2,500 campaign donation limit a candidate may receive under state law.
Previous Gazette reporting revealed the nonprofit had a related political action committee, known as Colorado Springs Forward State Political Funding Committee, that could have legally donated to the campaigns.
Katie Kennedy, the committee’s registered agent, told the Secretary of State officials in a letter the political action committee could have legally donated to the campaigns and likely caused confusion about the sources of the contributions to the candidates’ campaigns.
Former El Paso County Republican Party treasurer John Pitchford filed an initial complaint over the donations in February focused on the committee he thought was the donor based on campaign finance records, The Gazette previously reported. He later filed complaints against the commissioners for accepting the prohibited donations from a nonprofit, among other violations, when additional information came to light through the secretary of state’s investigation.
The Secretary of State’s Office said it recommended dismissal of the complaints because adequately cured the alleged violations when they submitted documentation including copies of they received from the nonprofit and checks they both wrote to refund the money, screenshots of bank account information and bank Entries for stop payment requests along with showing they both amended their campaign finance reports originally filed Nov. 1 to accurately reflect the donations and refunds.
In Bremer’s case, the Secretary of State’s Office also said it found “insufficient evidence” to support an additional allegation that Bremer requested the political action committee “destroy financial information.”
Bremer told state officials in an email she originally wrote a check on Oct. 26 to refund $2,500 of the prohibited $5,000 contribution but mailed it to the address registered to the political action committee, which she believed made the donation. Later, she said, when Colorado Springs Forward notified her the original check she received was not written from the correct account and the entire amount should be returned, she realized the first refund check she wrote for $2,500 had not been cashed.
“I asked that if that check was located by (Colorado Springs Forward) that it would be destroyed,” Bremer told state officials.
She also placed a stop payment request for the check with her bank, a copy of which she provided to the Secretary of State’s Office.
She then wrote another check on Feb. 28 for the full refund of $5,000, she said, which the nonprofit cashed.
Pitchford said he thought the state’s investigations into the complaints were “half-hearted at best.”
“I understand the position the Secretary of State’s Office is in,” he said. “They are not a law enforcement agency. But they acknowledge (both candidates) failed to comply with (campaign finance) reporting law.”
Bremer and Williams both told The Gazette the recommendation to dismiss the complaints was the right conclusion because they rectified the violations quickly.
“They saw that I went above and beyond to be transparent and I think the (request to dismiss) is a reflection of that,” Bremer said.
The deputy secretary of state has until July 15 to decide whether to dismiss the complaints against Bremer and Williams.
Concurrently, the state Elections Division has initiated an investigation of the nonprofit Colorado Springs Forward, alleging it made prohibited campaign donations to Bremer and Williams.
Colorado law prohibits corporations from contributing to candidates or political parties.
The Secretary of State’s Office has given the nonprofit until Tuesday to cure the violations.
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Kennedy said she is not authorized to speak on the matter. Phone calls made to board members listed on the nonprofit Colorado Springs Forward website were not immediately returned.
Information on its website states Colorado Springs Forward incorporated in April 2014 as a nonprofit organization made up of individuals and organizations primarily focusing on “achieving significant growth in the local economy.”
In past years it has supported initiatives like Colorado Springs’ 2015 voter-approved 2C sales tax, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers’ 2015 campaign for mayor, and campaigns of two El Paso County commissioners who successfully ran for office in 2016.
Campaign finance records available from the Secretary of State’s Office as of Nov. 1 show the political action committee did not report contributions he may have received in order to make the prohibited donations to Bremer’s and Williams’ campaigns because he only had a balance of $850 on hand.
Campaign finance records as of June 7 show the same.
The Colorado Springs Forward political action committee last reported contributions and expenditures more than six years ago, on June 7, 2016. Records show the organization reported it had $3,850 on hand and made $3,000 in contributions — three separate $1,000 donations to three campaign politicals between March 22, 2016 and May 26, 2016.