Maes says complaint is politically motivated

Campaign finance violations are 'clerical errors'

Maes accepts $17,500 fine for campaign violations

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes whittled more than $27,000 in fines for campaign finance violations down to $17,500. The agreement was reached last Friday and entered into the court records on Monday – canceling the morning hearing before an administrative law judge.

Under the agreement, the Friends of Dan Maes for Governor committee and Maes are to pay a total of $17,500 in fines to the Secretary of State within 30 days of the Order being signed.

Last week, Maes said that his attorneys were negotiating a deal to either dismiss the complaint or significantly reduce the fines. The Evergreen businessman might have achieved one of those goals – particularly a lower fine – by appearing before the administrative law judge.

That action, however, might have required Maes to produce records of contributions and receipts to validate hefty campaign cash advances to the candidate – more than $43,000 claimed for vehicle mileage since July 2009. The candidate and others might also have been deposed.

Maes said he didn’t want to become embroiled in a lengthy legal battle before the Aug. 10 primary against Republican former 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis.

“This is an intentional distraction. We are not hiding anything. There have not been any inappropriate reimbursements,” declared Maes. “We admit that we made a couple of clerical errors.”

Maes did not contest the violations in his campaign financial reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office in a response on Friday, July 2, from his attorneys Ross Pulkrabek and Daniel Wartell of Jones & Keller, PC. Even the reduced fine is thought to be the largest in state history.

“We didn’t want to pursue this because it would be a drain of our time and our finances,” said Maes. “We just want to move on.”

The candidate said that was the reason why he didn’t challenge the complaint which could have opened the door to a deposition that called for records of expenditures and contributions from individuals, including a high profile lobbyist.

The complaint was filed by attorney Erik Groves on behalf of Christopher Klitzke of Grand Junction in early May. Groves said that Klitzke, who is engaged to the attorney’s paralegal, is an oil field worker on the Western Slope. He is also a student in a college class taught by Groves.

“He is a good old oil field rough neck and citizen,” said Groves.

Klitzke had asked Groves about Maes’ campaign financial records and was informed that a citizen can file a complaint.

Maes described the complaint as a “manipulation of facts, bending of the truth and blatant lies” in an e-mail to key supporters on July 2. The candidate equated it to a political attack in a heated primary race.

“The greatest challenge is when the deception comes from within our own party. Some are becoming desperate and they will use many different means to attack. For us one came in the form of a civil suit from a Grand Junction man, represented by a Grand Junction attorney, who himself was litigated recently for wrong doing in the capitol,” wrote Maes.

“The suit claims we mishandled our campaign contributions and asked for financial damages… This suit is timed to be publicized in conjunction with the primary vote. It is our judgment to agree to the claims, which amount to parking tickets in the grand scheme of things,” he said.

Groves, a former lobbyist, was accused of attempting to influence a legislator in the election of a leader in the state House of Representatives in 2008. The election was cancelled because House Minority Leader Mike May withdrew his resignation and after a hearing, Groves received an advisement letter to abide by House rules of protocol.

Maes said the 2009 fourth quarter campaign finance report was filed late because the campaign’s “contracted treasurer” abruptly quit two days after it was due. A few days later, he said, Andrea Hough, a managing partner in the Denver-based Pinnacle Political Resources, sent an e-mail complaining that the campaign had not paid her for previous work in a timely manner.

Hough confirmed that she sent that e-mail in response to his request that she find someone to prepare the financial reports. She said that last summer Maes had requested her services in an emergency, but she told it him to find someone else to contract. Work that she performed in early October went unpaid until a few days before the 2009 fourth quarter report was due to be filed.

“I told him that I had two other political campaign clients and I could not take on more work,” said Hough. “I filled in temporarily as a favor. I was very upset when he told people that I had joined the campaign — that wasn’t true. We didn’t even have a contract.”

As a finance campaign manager for Republican statewide and congressional candidates now and in the past, Hough said that her job is to maintain all financial records, sign the checks, pay the bills, enter contribution checks, make bank deposits and file the financial reports.

“(Maes) kept total control of the finances. He e-mailed an Excel file of contributions but I never saw the checks. He dropped off an envelop full of receipts mostly for eating out, including Burger King, and expected me to reconcile them against an online bank statement e-mailed by his wife Karen to me. You can’t reconcile anything from that,” said Hough. “I never even saw a mileage log.”

“Those were red flags,” said Hough.

“As a campaign finance manager I have a fiduciary responsibility for the validity of the finance report. It’s a federal offense — or even felony — if anything goes wrong,” declared Hough.

She recalled meeting Maes once for a 10-minute conversation and talking twice on the phone. Maes said they talked almost daily about finances and the reports until early January when he realized that Hough was no longer in the picture.

“I called my daughter Jordan and asked her to get on the phone with the Secretary of State’s office and complete the filing within 48 hours. This 23-year-old did the finest job possible,” said Maes.

There were clerical errors, said Maes, two contributions were classified incorrectly because his daughter had listed the name of a company instead of a person.

Another issue in the complaint is the campaign’s mileage reimbursements to the candidate. Groves said the compensation did not correlate to the candidate’s event schedule published on the campaign Web site.

“According to my cursory calculations, that puts him on the road approximately eight hours a day,” said Groves. “That certainly raises suspicions.”

Maes was compensated $125 on Nov. 16, $1,000 on Nov. 17, $750 on Nov. 20 and $450 on Dec. 10. From Dec. 15 – 30, he received four payments totaling $3,100. In the first quarter of 2010, Maes received a $9,460 mileage reimbursement followed by what appear to be $5,000 advances in February, March and April. The candidate received mileage reimbursements of $4,861 in May and $1,000 and $861 in June.

“Anyone who’s watched our campaign knows the mileage we’ve logged,” declared Maes and estimated that he’s clocked 80,000 miles on his car in the past 16 months of the campaign.

The complaint also questioned duplicate compensations for rent paid to Evergreen Enterprise, LLC that the Secretary of State’s office lists as an entity represented by Barbara Wingate at 30496 Bryant Drive in Evergreen — the same address as Maes’ business registrations.

Maes said that the cited errors all arose from Hough quitting. “It is like dropping your tax information off at the CPA’s office about three days before April 15, and then finding out a couple of days later it was never filed.”

“These are clerical errors,” said Maes, who conceded that he’s been too busy campaigning to file paperwork for a couple of his businesses.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, Maes’ companies Amaesing Education Resources and Amaesing Credit Solutions are “delinquent” in filing annual reports.

He said that Amaesing Education Resources was created when he sold 51 percent of Amaesing Credit solutions, renamed Advantage Credit Bureau of Colorado LLC, to a company in North Dakota. Maes said he needs to file the reports and paperwork to close Amaesing Education Resources, a video production company that never evolved.

“These are clerical errors,” said Maes.

The publicized errors are fodder for the Republican candidate’s critics.

“For someone vying to be the chief executive of this state, the number of issues with campaign finance reports and other business irregularities certainly raise a troubling pattern of behavior,” said Groves.

Maes said that his campaign has spent less money than McInnis, has been staffed by volunteers and family and has thrived on grassroots support.

“We have momentum. According to the most recent filings, our campaign contributions are up 5 percent; McInnis campaign contributions dropped 35 percent,” asserted Maes.

At the end of June, Maes campaign reported $23,229 cash on hand compared to McInnis’ campaign war chest with $522,645 cash on hand.

McInnis campaign Communications Director Sean Duffy smirked and asked, “After paying that fine, where is Maes going to get the money to run campaign ads between now and the primary?”

“That’s a politically motivated comment that gets to heart of this whole problem,” responded Maes. “The whole intent of this complaint was to drain our financial resources just before the primary.”

“This no accident,” declared Maes.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com