The Buckley Stops Here

From questionable campaign contributions to administrative failures, Secretary of State Vikki Buckley's office has been a losing game.

Two years ago, in an off-election year, Secretary of State Victoria Buckley received nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions. About $5,000 of that came directly from bingo-related businesses: bingo halls, equipment suppliers and the owners of those businesses.

Although bingo was originally envisioned as a small, church-basement activity to help raise money for the state's nonprofit organizations, it has become a huge, cash-rich business, generating a quarter of a billion dollars each year. The secretary of state is charged with overseeing Colorado's bingo operations, making bingo-industry contributions to her campaign questionable. But they are not illegal.

Besides, others chipped in. Buckley, a Republican, also received about two dozen separate $500 cash contributions from private individuals--citizens who presumably were simply pleased with the job she was doing and what she represented. According to campaign-finance statements filed at Buckley's own office, they were people like Neal Stringer of Clifton, on the Western Slope.

"I don't know anything about that," says Stringer.
Or James Rosen of Littleton.
"I never contribute any money to candidates," says Rosen. "Are you sure you got the right guy? I'm a registered Libertarian. Is she a Libertarian? I never wrote a check to her."

Or Carol Vestal of Denver, who, like Rosen and Stringer, was so impressed with Buckley that she wrote the secretary of state a check for $500.

"Oh, no, we didn't contribute any money," says Vestal. "We're registered independents. There must be some sort of mistake."

The Dosmann family of Littleton was also quite taken with the first-term secretary of state--at least according to state elections records. Todd Dosmann gave her $500 in 1996, right around the same time he left the country on an assignment for the U.S. Navy. His father, Robert, doubled that, donating $1,000 to Buckley. The senior Dosmann's computer company, UpTime Technology, added yet another $500, for a Dosmann family total of $2,000.

"To tell you the truth, I don't know anything about her," says Robert Dosmann. "Maybe," he hypothesizes, "somebody is fudging the numbers."

In fact, there is a common thread that links Buckley's mysterious--and possibly illegal--campaign contributions. Not surprisingly, that thread runs like a marionette string directly through the state's bustling bingo industry.

And it's just one reason, among many, that Vikki must go.

By the time Vikki Buckley was elected secretary of state in November 1994, she had more than paid her dues. In an article she wrote for Ladies' Home Journal in December 1995, Buckley recalls planning to join the Peace Corps and then attend college. That schedule was abruptly interrupted, however, when she became an unwed mother at the age of twenty. By 1974, when she got her first government job, with the Public Service Careers department, Buckley had already endured a condensed life, marrying, divorcing, giving birth to another son and going on and off the state's welfare rolls--a humiliation, she wrote, that stayed with her.

Buckley worked in the secretary of state's office for nearly two decades, climbing from clerical positions to a supervisory job in the elections division. When her boss, Natalie Meyer, decided to retire after serving twelve years, Buckley became an aggressive candidate. (It wasn't her first run for office; in the 1960s she ran for student council at Denver's Cheltenham Elementary. Her slogan: "Don't be icky--vote for Vikki.") She ran a dogged campaign for secretary of state, bursting out of nowhere in the final months to earn a victory over several more visible and more politically connected candidates. The election of Colorado's first black woman--and first black Republican--to a statewide office was hailed as a progressive milestone.

Suzanne Smith, at the time a colleague of Buckley's under Natalie Meyer, enthusiastically signed on with Buckley's campaign. "She had all that experience in the office," recalls Smith, who last year was elected to the Westminster City Council. "We thought she'd do a great job."

As the election approached, Smith labored long and hard to get Buckley into office. "My husband and I are politically active in the Republican Party," she recalls. "So we lined her up with a lot of people who could help her. I organized parades for her, held signs. I can't tell you how many hours I put into getting her elected." Smith's husband, Gary, helped write the rousing speech Buckley gave at the state Republican convention, which helped earn her a place on the ballot. "In 1994," Smith recalls, "everybody in the secretary of state's office supported her."

Few of those people are still around. Smith left less than two years into Buckley's term. "Now," she says, "I wouldn't vote for Vikki. I wouldn't cross the street for Vikki."

Smith says she takes comfort knowing that she is not alone. Since Buckley assumed the department's top position, more than a dozen employees have quit. Several were crucial to the office; in her first two years, for example, Buckley plowed through two deputy secretaries of state. Since January 1997 the position has remained vacant.

Buckley has also chewed up three separate elections-division directors. Each says he left because he couldn't work with her. The most recent casualty, Bill Compton, whom Buckley had hired away from the same position in Alabama, resigned in July after a little more than two years on the job.

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