GOP Gessler’s antics irk Secretary of State

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

A complaint filed against Secretary of State Bernie Buescher by a supporter of his Republican opponent was dismissed Tuesday by an administrative law judge. And Republican candidate Scott Gessler admitted Tuesday he “may have” had input into that complaint and another allegation made against Buescher regarding his calendar.

The campaign finance complaint alleged a member of Buescher’s staff maintained his schedule for official business and also maintained his campaign calendar, without reimbursement to the state from the Buescher campaign for her paid state time.

The complaint was filed by attorney Robert McGuire on behalf of Nickelette Bigham-Gullette, an Adams County GOP activist who ran for Adams County Clerk in 2006. Tuesday, McGuire asked an administrative law judge to dismiss the complaint based on concerns that they “will not prevail” should the matter end up in court.

In the motion, McGuire said they had interviewed the employee, Heidi Hamilton, and while she confirmed some of the details outlined in the complaint, key details differed from what the plaintiffs learned from the pre-filing investigations. McGuire said that between the “inconsistencies between Ms. Hamilton’s account” and the facts obtained in the pre-complaint investigations, they concluded they would lose the case unless they could find further admissible evidence.

McGuire asked that the complaint be dismissed without prejudice, which meant it could be filed again. He noted in the dismissal that Buescher objected, stating a dismissal with prejudice was more appropriate, since he believed the complaint was without merit. McGuire said he offered to go that route, so long as both parties were responsible for their own legal fees, but on that Buescher refused.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Buescher said he was “considering his options” on the issue of legal fees and the costs of defending against “this frivolous complaint. As the state grapples with economic challenges and reduced spending, these complaints only tie up the judicial system and lead to government waste. I feel I owe it to the people of Colorado to push back and put the financial burden on this individual for wasting the state’s time and money.”

McGuire, a Republican attorney, has donated $500 to Gessler this year. McGuire has also represented Stephanie Cegielski in a campaign finance complaint filed earlier this year against Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder. Until May of this year, Cegielski was a legal specialist in the elections division of the Secretary of State’s office, where she had worked for four years, serving Gigi Dennis, Mike Coffman and Buescher. After leaving the Secretary of State’s office, Cegielski started the Colorado Government Accountability Project (COGAP), and one of its first actions was to file an open records request for Buescher’s calendar. Cegielski later alleged that Buescher spent 20 percent of his time on personal business, but the analysis only looked at his hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and also assumed calendar entries marked “private” were for personal business. Buescher said many of those entries were for on-going and recurring meetings, such as those with county clerks.

Gessler told The Colorado Statesman Tuesday he “may have” had input into the campaign finance complaint filed by McGuire. He said McGuire is a friend and that he was aware that McGuire had contributed to his campaign. Gessler, an election attorney, said he has known Cegielski for about five years. “I probably know every Republican attorney who is capable of filing [complaints] or works in the election law field,” he explained, and that applies to most Democratic attorneys, too. He said he spoke to Cegielski about Buescher’s calendar entries and about a meeting between Buescher’s administrative and campaign staff that was a key element in the Bigham-Gullette complaint. Cegielski said she did not know Bigham-Gullette; McGuire told The Statesman earlier this month that Bigham-Gullette was familiar with COGAP but denied that he had brought the issue to her attention. He also denied that Gessler was an unnamed source of much of the information in the complaint.

Buescher said Gessler had sent out an e-mail regarding the complaint shortly after it was filed, which he called “fishy.” Attorney General spokesman Mike Saccone said an attorney from the AG’s office got the complaint at 3:50 p.m. on Sept. 29 while he was at a meeting in the secretary’s office. However, McGuire told The Statesman he faxed the complaint to Buescher’s office at 5:40 p.m. on Sept. 28 and sent it via e-mail to the Attorney General’s office a minute later. The e-mail from the Gessler campaign came out at 2:24 p.m. the next day, stating that it was in response to a story from the Associated Press. That story originated from an e-mail that came out at 11:47 a.m. on Sept. 29 from a Jackson Johnson, who used an untraceable e-mail account and who sent the complaint to dozens of newspaper and TV reporters. McGuire said he does not know who Johnson is or how he got a copy of the complaint.

“What’s frustrating to me,” Buescher told The Statesman on Wednesday, is that “Scott views this as a game, and it’s not.” He cited as an example the problems of the Independent Auto Dealers Association, which has racked up more than $500,000 in fines for failing to file campaign finance reports for more than two years. Gessler was its registered agent and responsible for those reports. The association filed papers on Sept. 20 to replace him, and all of the missing reports were filed on Sept. 30. In addition, Buescher said Gessler has wasted taxpayer dollars on “trivial things” and complaints that can’t be substantiated. “This isn’t the way public policy can be made,” Buescher said.

Bigham-Gullette has never responded to repeated requests for interviews.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com