Former Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters has been fined $15,400 by a state court for campaign finance violations related to her reelection bid.
The Colorado Office of Administrative Courts’ decision says that Peters violated the Fair Campaign Practice Act (the “FCPA”) by failing to register as a candidate, as well as failing to file accurate campaign donations and expenditures while running for reelection for clerk.
The violations occurred from September of 2021 through February of 2022, at which point Peters dropped her reelection bid and launched a campaign for Colorado Secretary of State. She subsequently lost the Republican primary in that race.
It’s somewhat unusual to see large campaign finance fines in the state because Colorado law allows “a respondent that has failed to comply with the campaign finance reporting laws the opportunity to avoid sanction by curing the violation.”
The Secretary of State’s elections division stated that Peters’ campaign failed to fix the campaign violations when alerted to them, and in some instances didn’t respond to requests seeking more information.
The first citizen complaint occurred in the summer of 2021, when Peters, who was then the Mesa County Clerk, changed the name of her candidate Facebook page from “Vote Tina Peters 2018” to “Vote Tina Peters 2022”.
The state said it notified Peters that if she was beginning to campaign, she needed to register a candidate committee and file a candidate affidavit. In September of 2021 her website had a “live contribution link” and the campaign website gave potential donors information on where to mail checks.
In his finding, administrative law judge Timothy Nemecheck concluded, “she took tangible steps as a candidate,” which also included talking publicly about her intention to seek reelection.
“The ALJ (administrative law judge) found the solicitation of donations on the campaign website and solicitation of mail in donations was evidence that she was a candidate for Mesa County Clerk and Recorder as of September 2021,” wrote Judge Nemechek.
But Peters, who was under investigation at the time for allegedly breaching the security of her office’s election equipment, argued that she was not a candidate for clerk and recorder in September of 2021.
A response from Peters’ legal team, which was included in the record of the court’s decision, asserted, “Ms. Tina Peters has not announced an intent, nor has she taken any action, to seek re-election as county clerk and recorder. Indeed, at this point she is unsure whether she will seek re-election. Accordingly, she has not established a committee, accepted any contributions, or made any expenditures in support of a campaign for county clerk and recorder or any other office.”
However the state’s elections division argued Peters did accept donations. The court agreed and concluded that she was running for office.
Peters was the subject of a second campaign finance complaint that fall but, according to the state’s elections division, no-one from the Peters campaign responded about fixing those violations.
Peters formally announced her re-election campaign for Mesa County Clerk and Recorder on January 13, 2022 and filed the candidate affidavit at that point.
But the court found that over the next month, while Peters actively campaigned, sought donations, and incurred expenses, she failed to register a candidate committee or report any of those donations or expenses to the state’s campaign finance disclosure system. Just a month later, on February 14th, Peters discontinued her reelection bid for clerk and recorder and announced that she would instead run for Colorado Secretary of State.
“In the case at bench, the ALJ (administrative law judge) found there was no evidence that Respondent cured the violations that, at least until such time as she registered as a candidate and filed her affidavit. As such, fines for the violations will be imposed.”
The Colorado Attorney General’s office represented the state, while former Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler and attorney Josh Berry represented Peters.
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