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"Well, Republicans win, of course."

As the group laughed, he quickly added, "No, no, no, I didn't say that! From the secretary of state's standpoint, how do you know if you have a good election?"

But his original answer had already been caught on camera and was soon reported on ColoradoPols.com, a political blog that has frequently gone after the secretary of state. The coverage of that gaffe highlighted the scrutiny that Gessler has faced from Democratic politicians and left-leaning advocacy organizations since the vocal conservative took office.

The backlash began after Gessler, unhappy with his salary, unsuccessfully pushed to moonlight at his former law firm. He'd known the pay when he ran for the office, critics pointed out, and it would be a conflict of interest for the official in charge of elections to take on cases involving election law.

And he was soon creating plenty of election-law questions. Gessler fought with county clerks across the state when local election officials wanted to mail ballots to voters who'd missed the last election. While county clerks argued that registered voters deserved to get ballots if they'd skipped a single election, Gessler claimed that it would violate the law and create unnecessary opportunities for fraud. He sued, and the case is going to court this month.

In public, Gessler can be both very silly and very stubborn. At one recent speech on campaign finance, he joked about not needing Viagra. At a public hearing a week later, he slammed a commenter from the League of Women Voters, saying that the national leader of the group had intentionally misrepresented his office and refused to work with him. The stubbornness earned him the Honey Badger nickname, a label first hung on Gessler by ColoradoPols, which stuck to him after a Colorado Public Radio segment. But the silliness also made Gessler a fan of the nickname; his aides joke that they should put a honey badger in the lobby of his office.

During his time in that office, Gessler says he has made a lot of reforms on the business side, making it easier for companies and non-profit groups to do their filings. He has also reduced campaign-finance fines so that smaller groups are encouraged to participate in elections. And he insists that he has helped increase voter participation and made the voter rolls more accurate and less vulnerable to fraud.

"We've done more in this office in the last year and a half than any secretary of state for a long time," he boasts.

But under Gessler, that office has done all the wrong things, critics say, including waging an unnecessary war against legitimate voters. They charge that he's gone above and beyond in the so-called rule-making process, trying to rewrite laws to actually decrease transparency in campaign finance. And in their eyes, he has focused on party politics while allowing inexcusable voter registration errors on the secretary of state's website.

Who are Gessler's critics? Colorado Common Cause, Colorado Ethics Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and several other watchdog groups, along with liberal consultants and Democratic politicians, have all criticized Gessler and, from his perspective, inspired negative news stories — which the left-leaning media has happily embraced, he says. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has done frequent stories on Gessler, painting him as one of the worst Republican officials in the country, one who's actively promoting a GOP voter-suppression agenda. There's a fake Twitter account devoted to Gessler, as well as a website called GesslerWatch.com dedicated to tracking his initiatives.

"I actually am surprised," he says. "I've never seen any political figure in Colorado ever, except for a sitting governor, get this kind of attention."

And just before the election, Gessler's critics were handed fresh ammunition for a new round of attacks when they learned of his $1,452.52 reimbursement tied to a Florida trip that involved two GOP-related events. The Denver District Attorney's Office is investigating whether that represents a criminal misuse of funds. But Gessler and his attorneys say that no public dollars were used for the RNC, and that the trip to the Republican National Lawyers Association conference was part of his official business.

Colorado Ethics Watch hasn't just complained about the Florida charges, however. It also argues that Gessler unlawfully repaid himself about $1,400 from his office's discretionary fund at the end of his first fiscal year, without offering up any receipts. The state's Independent Ethics Commission is investigating that charge and the Florida expenses. And in response, in a December 20 filing, Gessler provided a lengthy list of unreimbursed expenses well in excess of that amount related to official business, such as cell phone records. "This is necessary to rebut the sensationalized and politicized accusations that [Ethics Watch]...has advanced to injure the Secretary's reputation," his attorneys said.

Gessler has injured his reputation all on his own, his critics say.

"You don't just represent your clients anymore. You represent everyone," says Ellen Dumm, a liberal consultant who has worked with a wide range of voter groups. "It's just not in his DNA to be a good public servant."

"We often say that an official who bends the law in one area is likely to bend the law in another area. But rarely do you see it exposed so graphically," says Luis Toro, director of Ethics Watch. "At the same time, the secretary of state is pushing the envelope on all these campaign-finance rules that we were legally challenging. Then it turns out he was pushing the envelope, at best, on the spending of money."

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13 comments
Spectrewriter
Spectrewriter

A few days ago, I received a notice from the Colorado Secretary of State's office:

Business filing fee holiday extended through February
$1 business filing fees conclude Feb. 28

Denver, Colo. – Today, Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced the fee holiday for all online business filings and notaries public applications will continue through the end of February. Beginning March 1, these filings will revert to their previous rate or lower, while the non-profit fee holiday remains in place.

It seems pretty clear that ALL ONLINE BUSINESS FILINGS has no caveats. Yet when I went to file one such form, a Cure of Delinquency (for having missed filing a form that says "Yes, this is our address) they hit me up for $60. A phone call yielded a bunch of moralizing about how the fee holiday is for people who are law-abiding and pay their fees on time. I hold that "ALL" still means all, and they should keep to their word. They don't want to budge. 

What do you say?

Care to weigh in personally, Scott Gessler?

shawnyocumalford1
shawnyocumalford1

A few years ago a Colorado Springs County Commissioner (Jim Bensberg-R.) was observed with a stack of Colorado Springs papers-"The Independent." A camera in the County Building provided the coverage of the event. Bensberg said he was going to "distribute" them. "The Independent" covered the story.

This is from The Independent's archive:

"I could see the difference when [Jim Bensberg] walked to the right and then to the left, that he had something in his arms. You can make up your mind what it is -- I'm not going to rat out the commissioner."

-- El Paso County's director of security, Don Johnson, after reviewing a videotape that showed Bensberg appearing to pick up a stack of Independent newspapers that included coverage of his activities in the harassment investigation (described above). This year the Legislature enacted a bill making it illegal to steal free newspapers; however the law had not yet gone into effect.

carlosmartinez256
carlosmartinez256

Typical Liberal tactic.  Any conservative that is a threat to their liberal Utopia must be destroyed.  If not at the ballot box through frivolous criminal and ethical allegations.  I would urge Gessler not to back down and let these tactics work.  Their efforts to intimidate and silence opposition must fail.  Hopefully the legal defense will be allowed as the legal fees from fighting all these frivolous allegations will naturally discourage good people from running for office.  Keep up the good work Gessler!

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

Is this the Westword or Gesslerword ? Most often, it's nearly impossible to tell . The WW covers Gessler like the Denver Post sports section,  does with Manning .....

madmemere
madmemere

And I'm just going to suggest that all the Gessler "bashers" are registered "dimwits" - -we seem to have an over abundance of those misplaced libtards around these parts!  Frankly, it would be refreshing to hear from a few "patriotic Americans", instead of a bunch of obama-soetoro azzwipes!

Mugento
Mugento

This article failed to mention one of Gessler's more notorious acts as SOS. The Larimer County Republicans were slapped with a $50,000 fine for campaign finance violations ($90k in donations that were not reported - not an accidental oversight). Gessler did his buddies a solid and reduced the fine by a whopping 68% then, just to show that there were no hard feelings, he went up to Larimer County and did a fundraiser to help them pay the fine. Once this deed was done, Gessler lost any shred of credibility that he might have had as a supposedly non-partisan official. Now he wants us to pay for him to attend Republican events? I would buy the line that he was there in an official capacity if he also attended the DNC and Democratic National Lawyers Association meetings, but I am going to guess that is not the case. Seriously, we can do better than this guy.

carlosmartinez256
carlosmartinez256

This blows my mind.  Bill Clinton committs Perjury.  Ted Kennedy murder.  But it's all good, since they are liberal.  This man trys enforce the law and make sure voters are, heaven forbid, citizens and "Ethics Watch"  trys to prosecute him for flying home to protect his family amid death threats?!  That's absolutely absurd but unfortunately typical of liberals.  It isn't enough to win most of the election, you than have to try to prosecute any other politician that doesn't fall in line with your left wing agenda.  No wonder many good people don't want to run for office anymore.  It really is sad.

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editor

I'd love to publish comments about this story as letters to the editor in our print edition -- ideally with the author's full name. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

michaeljlop
michaeljlop

Weasaller is  nothing more than a republican american taliban domestic terrorist with double standards,  suck KOCH and cater to the rich and fuck the poor!  LET THEM DIE MENTALITY

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Gessler = another corrupt cowardly Repuglykan scumbag

TedBahre
TedBahre

Gessler has selective backbone. When administrative people at a center for developmentally disabled people were found buying Bronco tickets and remolding offices, while the people in the center didn't have heat and the roof leaked. Gessler didn't have the guts to go after them, I guess because the developmentally diabled aren't  a big voting block.

billl1
billl1

In light of our current federal administration's disgraceful adherence to enforcing existing laws (immigration, for one), it is refreshing to see someone with Mr. Gessler's backbone. I'm proud of his actions in spite of an unrelenting attack via character assassination, innuendo, and generally data-free diatribes. Aggressive enforcement of laws--large or small--is what he's paid for. Ignoring them for one's political convenience (hello, Obama!) encourages anarchy.

azdawes
azdawes

The more I hear about this guy, the more I like him. I'm tired of these do-nothing elected officials. How about some bold ideas? I don't know anyone who says ya know, our government works really well. I hope it keeps doing what it's doing. Put someone in there to shake things up and of course, he'll get hammered.

Go, Scotty, Go!

 
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