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Scott Gessler not at fault for flaws in spending report, Secretary of State's office says

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Update: Secretary of State Scott Gessler has been named a possible suspect regarding flaws in the Colorado Independent Spending Report released by the National Institute on Money in State Politics; the report showed a total expenditure for 2006-2010 much larger then was actually the case. However, Gessler's spokesman says the Honey Badger had nothing to do with the errors.

While the institute did collect incorrect data directly from the Secretary of State's office during a time when Gessler was occupying office, communications director Rich Coolidge says office personnel didn't input it. "If you come in and you are a candidate, you enter the data into the system," he maintains. "We don't proofread it, we don't check it."

Gessler took office in 2011, one year after the data was collected for the 2006-2010 spending period. Now, according to Coolidge, the process has changed.

"Since 2002, we've learned a lot about the system and we've been patching the system from 2002 to 2009," he says. "We now have a brand new system," launched in 2010, "which is much more sophisticated and hopefully easier for people to enter data and collect data."

Read our earlier coverage for more details.

Original post, 9:49 a.m. January 19: Could Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler have provided inaccurate data for a national report -- a prospect that comes to light during the same week that NPR sent him an audio love letter?

Given his track record, it's certainly a possibility. But it might not have been his fault.

Back in August, the National Institute on Money in State Politics released a report on independent spending in Colorado between the years 2006 and 2010. However, the document was taken down almost immediately, after a mistake in expenditure calculations was discovered. It has since been corrected.

The error ensued when Institute researcher Robin Parkinson downloaded what turned out to be inaccurate data from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. The data represented a total expenditure that was multiplied several times, resulting in a figure much larger than it should have been.

"Expenditure as a whole is broken down to amounts targeting each candidate," explains Pete Quist, the Institute's lead researcher. "Say there are five candidates -- when the state shows how much money there is, we ended up attributing the total of all those targets to each specific candidate."

Quist said that out of the 22 published state reports, "this is the only time we ran into that."

The Institute wasn't at fault, because its reports came directly from the state. But Institute managing director Denise Roth Barber says she's not sure the blame should be put on Gessler, either.

When Institute staffers received the data, they had two options for download: by way of Excel spreadsheet or through text formatting. "We downloaded it in the form of text -- line-by-line -- and they had it designed so the same expenditure showed up multiple times," Roth Barber notes.

Had they chosen the Excel format, however, the total expenditure would have been listed only once. For that reason, Roth Barber says, "I think it could be argued whether it was the Secretary's mistake."

A technical malfunction in a world where computer coding triumphs over the human mind? Or, negligence on part of the Honey Badger? The vote is yours.

More from our Politics archive: "Scott Gessler's suit against Denver County for inactive-voter mailings shameful, says ACLU."

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