Secretary of State investigating campaign finance complaint from Douglas County resident over group supporting school funding measure

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Douglas County School bus depot in. Castle Rock October 25, 2021.

A Douglas County resident has lodged a complaint against a group advocating for a school tax and bond measure, and state elections officials are now investigating.

Tiffany Baker, of Parker, filed a campaign finance complaint against an issue committee called Invest in DCSD that is registered to lobby in support of Douglas County ballot issues 5A and 5B.

The proposed $60 million mill-levy override would pay Douglas County School District teachers and school staff more, and the $450 million bond would build new schools and repair others. 

The school board voted unanimously in support of the measures — the first time the deeply divided board agreed on something. Despite the unified front, the divisions remain, and battles that have played out in the boardroom have left many residents with raw feelings. 

The Secretary of State's office reviewed the complaint and identified “one or more potential violations of Colorado campaign finance laws.”

The complaint alleges that Invest in DCSD accepted prohibited contributions by using a local fire station to campaign for the measures, made an improper contribution to candidates in the 2022 election, and failed to include required disclaimers on campaign communications.

The Invest in DCSD chair and spokesperson said that they are working closely with the Secretary of State and have been told that a violation may not have occurred. 

“They are still in the process of fact gathering so we are waiting on them to request more information. Unfortunately anyone can file a complaint whether there are merits to the complaint or not,” said Christa Gilstrap.

Invest in DCSD has until Nov. 10 to respond and comply with the law.

In the complaint, Baker provided Facebook posts from Oct. 16 advertising an event hosted by Invest in DCSD at the Larkspur Fire Station. Screenshots show the group inviting people to come to the Oct. 20 event, promising that a number of candidates running in the election would be in attendance.

The post stated that the event was “hosted by local citizens” and not coordinated with any candidate or campaign committee.

Under campaign finance law, using government property for a political event related to a local ballot issue is a prohibited contribution. The complaint alleges Invest in DCSD failed to return the contribution required by Colorado campaign and political finance laws.

Baker also alleges the group made improper contributions to a number of candidates in the November election by inviting them and advertising their presence at the campaign event.  Only the attendance of GOP candidates, including candidates for the state legislature and the clerk and recorder’s, assessor and sheriff’s office, was advertised on the post.

A “paid for by” disclaimer statement must appear on a campaign communication when a person spends $1,000 or more in one year on election communications. The Facebook posts didn’t feature a disclaimer.

“I would have no problem if the candidates simply showed up at the forum but I think it is wrong for the 5A/5B ballot committee to be promoting partisan political candidates,” Baker wrote in the complaint. Baker said the post conveys the message that Douglas County voters who support 5A and 5B should vote for those candidates. The Secretary of State said the facts alleged show Invest in DCSD may have violated campaign finance law. It said however, the issue committee has a chance to comply with the law within 10 days. Invest in DCSD can also dispute the allegations, and state officials must conduct an additional review within 30 days.