The roller coaster and Ferris wheel for the relocated Elitch Gardens amusement park in downtown Denver are going up quickly--but the lobbying firm that helped grease the skids for the company's move appears to be sinking fast.
Late last month Denver City Clerk Arie Taylor banned White & Cole Associates, the downtown firm of longtime lobbyists David J. Cole and Richard A. White, from lobbying Denver elected officials. Taylor, who also assessed a $37,550 fine, accused White & Cole, and Cole individually, of not filing monthly and annual reports required by law--and of flouting her repeated demands that they comply.
The case is the first enforcement action taken by the city following the passage of an April 1992 ordinance requiring lobbyists to reveal which officials they're contacting and who's paying them to do it. The measure was intended to shed light on the often unseen role lobbyists play in the formulation of city policy.
Cole and White have been influential figures in Denver politics in recent years. Their chief client has been Elitch's, which hired them to pave the way for millions in taxpayer loans and other subsidies that have allowed the amusement park to move from its original home in north Denver. The men have also lobbied on behalf of airport concessionaires and have done work for the Denver Housing Authority.
Last year White managed DHA boardmember Nita Gonzalez's unsuccessful campaign for the Denver school board; he became embroiled in a political controversy when state representative Rob Hernandez accused him and his firm of improperly using their connections with Elitch Gardens to influence the election. White called Hernandez's charge ludicrous.
Records at the city clerk's office indicate that White and Cole have locked horns with Taylor's office over disclosure requirements almost since the 1992 ordinance was passed. As far back as August 28, 1992, the lobbyists met with Taylor to discuss "the failure of White & Cole to file reports," records show. According to a cease-and-desist order signed by Taylor last month, the firm hasn't filed annual registration statements for 1992 or 1993 and has yet to provide monthly financial reports for August 1993, October 1993, November 1993 and February 1994.
In the cease-and-desist order, Taylor said Cole and his partner have "a history of willfully and repeatedly failing to comply" with reporting requirements and that the firm has already been fined on more than one occasion for late filings. The order prohibits the men from lobbying Denver officials for one year and until the fine is paid.
Cole, the firm's president, did not return phone calls requesting comment. In an October 26 letter to Taylor, the lobbyist described Taylor's decision as "unfair and premature," said it would cause "irreparable harm" to his business and suggested that he has not been allowed to exhaust his due-process rights.
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In an October 18 letter to Assistant City Attorney Stan Sharoff, Cole, an early political supporter of Mayor Wellington Webb, said he believed "it would be unfair and very harmful to my name or the name of my company to appear in a negative manner on any public list until I have explored all options."
On October 31 Taylor denied Cole's request for a hearing, adding that he and his firm had failed to respond in any way to a September 12 show-cause order. That order instructed Cole and the firm to explain why their certificates of registration shouldn't be revoked or suspended within twenty days and warned that a failure to respond could result in a summary judgment in the city's favor.
City councilwoman Mary DeGroot, who drafted the 1992 legislation, says she kept the ordinance's filing requirements simple so the measure wouldn't place an undue burden on lobbyists. DeGroot notes that a statement is read at every city council meeting reminding lobbyists that they have to register. She says she finds it "pretty unusual" that White & Cole didn't make the necessary disclosures.
Adds the councilwoman, "It sounds like the ordinance worked.