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The Buckley Stops Here

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...
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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.

"She has a knack for making employees' jobs so unpleasant that they want to leave," he says from his new office at the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder's Office. "She's definitely a bad manager. But when you couple that with her being vindictive to her own employees, you have a highly dysfunctional working environment."

Many of Buckley's former employees say they were systematically harassed by their boss until they left. Others say the office environment became so hostile that their work days were unbearable. Several considered themselves close friends of Buckley's until her election; afterward, they say, she became increasingly distrustful and isolated.

Those employees she hasn't forced out she's fought with stubbornly, and at great cost to taxpayers. She has brought disciplinary actions against three of the office's five bingo compliance inspectors--and lost every one. One case, against inspector Jerry Galindo, was decided three weeks ago after more than a year of legal wrangling and thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees. The dispute was over two hours of pay.

Another case, brought against inspector Frederick Young only weeks after Buckley took office, dragged on for three years. Buckley lost first at a disciplinary hearing, then at a personnel board hearing, then at the state Court of Appeals, then at the Colorado Supreme Court. Because of her belligerence, earlier this year the episode ended in taxpayers shelling out a six-figure settlement--not counting attorneys' fees for both sides, which Buckley was also ordered to pay.

Buckley did not respond to Westword's written list of questions regarding her performance during the past four years. But Mike Fortinberry, political director for the Colorado Republican Party, which is supporting her for re-election in November, explains that many of Buckley's personnel difficulties are an unfortunate result of the state's civil service rules. He says she has tried to jettison problem employees, only to have them ordered back to work by an overly protective state personnel board. "Now she's having to work with people who are actively working against her," he says.

Yet the staff battles have taken a steep toll, and not just in office morale. Buckley has systematically chased away the office's most experienced workers and then been slow to fill the positions--or hasn't done it at all. With all the empty chairs, it is not surprising that crucial work doesn't get done.

In the past two months, two statewide initiatives have snuck onto the ballot by default: The elections division simply didn't have enough people to review the petition signatures before the legal deadline arrived. "For months, I literally begged her to fill existing vacancies," recalls Compton. "But she didn't."

Workers who remain in the secretary of state's office say other petitions received cursory review. In recent weeks the office's inability to function has become a joke--even among its own employees. "Yes, I've seen the petitions," said one giggling elections-office worker the day before the review deadline of September 3. "They're stacked up in the hallway."

The inattention has meant that even some of the petitions that Buckley's skeleton staff did see were reviewed inadequately. Two weeks ago backers of an initiative that would permit marijuana use for medicinal purposes sued Buckley, claiming she improperly denied their petitions, thus killing the initiative. Last week, a Denver District Court judge agreed and ordered the initiative onto the ballot.

Fortinberry says that considering the rapid growth of Colorado's population--and thus a larger number of required signatures for ballot initiatives that must be reviewed by the secretary of state--Buckley has done a superb job. "She has actually had to do more in terms of verifying signatures than other secretaries of state," he points out.

Still, in permitting the two initiatives to sneak onto the November's ballot--one requires minors seeking an abortion to first obtain their parents' permission; the other allows politicians to accept voluntary term limits--Buckley has made Colorado history. This will be the first time ever that the secretary of state has not guaranteed that a petition's signatures are genuine before voters see it.

And critics say it isn't the first time Buckley has failed to run her office properly; it's merely the first time the public has seen it. County clerks, who rely heavily on the secretary of state for advice and support in handling local electoral matters, say they have given up trying to work with her. Buckley's office, they say, has simply withered into insignificance. The clerks no longer bother to call with questions or concerns; they have learned to function without the secretary of state.

Perhaps the most dramatic instance of Buckley's failure in office has been her regulation of bingo. During her campaign, Buckley made no secret of her sympathies for the business. In response, the industry has been generous: Almost all of Buckley's campaign contributions come from bingo-related sources.

A critical state audit, released in December 1996, blasted Buckley for her gold-lined link to the industry, pointing out that the chummy connections created an impression of favoritism to donors. Buckley retorted that all lawmakers receive campaign contributions from people who have pending business before them. State officials, fearful of appearing hypocritical, backed off.

But there is a difference. Senators and representatives wield limited authority over laws and policy, their influence diluted by the opinions, agendas and votes of their colleagues. The secretary of state is autocratic: She alone is responsible for deciding which bingo operators to license, which to investigate, which to prosecute.

And Buckley's ties to the bingo industry have had an effect--some donors do seem to have received preferential treatment. That, in turn, has had an even more corrosive effect, sending a clear message that the secretary of state's office is no longer a factor in the way bingo is run. "Basically, we're standing on the sidelines while the hall owners and suppliers run this business," says one state worker who requested anonymity.

The secretary of state's office is unique among statewide elected offices. Unlike representatives and senators and the governor, who set policy and enact new laws, the secretary's position is administrative. She is, above all, a manager, watching over bingo, handling the daily deluge of paperwork for corporations and Uniform Commercial Code filings, and administering Colorado's elections. In the best of times, no one realizes the position exists.

Vikki Buckley's years as secretary of state have been far from the best of times.

Bill Hobbs was appointed chief of the secretary of state's elections division by Natalie Meyer in December 1994--the month in between the time Buckley won the election and when she took office. It was awkward timing. "But," says Hobbs, "I had met with Vikki, and she was aware of that, and she didn't express any concerns. So I took the job knowing that Vikki was okay with it. I was looking forward to it."

It proved difficult to keep that positive attitude, though. Within a week of taking office, Buckley canned Hobbs's top assistant, attorney Katherine Baird, whose long experience in the office Hobbs had counted on to help him become acclimated to the new job. It was just the beginning.

Michelle Burton, who, after Buckley herself, had worked the longest in the office, appeared to be the next target. She was a liaison to the county clerks, helping them sort out elections questions. Hobbs says he had also been relying on Burton's two decades of experience to help him learn the ropes--particularly now that Baird was history.

But Buckley seemed intent on driving Burton away also. She soon pulled Burton off of her elections work and assigned her numbing menial assignments, such as scanning thousands of pages of documents into the computer. Frustrated, Burton quit within weeks.

The pattern continued. After helping Buckley win election to office, Suzanne Smith sought and obtained a new assignment to oversee the implementation of the new National Voter Registration Act. "But Vikki soon started taking responsibilities away from me," Smith recalls. Several months later, upon returning from maternity leave, Smith was instructed not to work on anything having to do with the NVRA--"even though that was still my title," she says. "So I spent eight hours a day just sitting there." After four weeks, Smith had had enough. She quit.

It could be true that Buckley was trying to cleanse the office of incompetent workers made complacent by civil service protection, a claim her supporters have since made. Yet as more employees were chased away, that explanation has become increasingly difficult to believe. Moreover, while the purges continued, replacements never seemed to show up. "Eventually, I just didn't have the resources to get the job done," recalls Hobbs.

Buckley also seemed to isolate herself from her top deputies as time went on. "I couldn't get her attention," says Hobbs. "She would not talk to me. I felt that there were things that came up all the time that I thought the secretary of state should make a decision on. But she simply wasn't approachable. I'd go to her office, and it was very chilly. I resorted to sending her memos. I'd never hear back."

As the size of the elections division shrunk and as Buckley withdrew, Hobbs remembers a paralysis settling over the office. Hobbs recalls a state senator who'd been appointed midway into a term asking for a ruling on how the appointment would affect his term limits. "I did all the research on the issue, checked the precedents and sent Vikki a memo," says Hobbs, who today works for the legislature's Joint Budget Committee. "I never heard back. A month later the guy called and asked what had happened; he still hadn't heard. I never knew what to tell anyone."

Other important work seemed to disappear, too. In early 1995, Hobbs says, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was looking into allegations of forged petition signatures in a Denver-area county. "I met with the CBI, and there did appear to be some basis for believing that fraud had been committed," he recalls. "So I took the report and passed it on to Vikki. And I never heard anything about it again."

Hobbs insists that he tried to keep his perspective and his faith in Buckley. "I had every reason to believe that she would get her sea legs," he says. "And that attitude carried me through a few months. But it never got better."

So in July 1995, exasperated, he gave up. "It was a very frustrating and very disappointing experience," he says. "And it was directly related to Vikki."

Next at bat was Emerson Holliday, appointed elections chief by Buckley in December 1995. His tenure began auspiciously: Hired initially in June 1994 as a computer and publications trainer, Holliday had become close friends with Buckley before her election to secretary. Like Smith, he worked hard for her campaign and rejoiced in her victory.

By that summer, he says, Buckley had become financially strapped. (It wasn't the first time. Burton recalls that her secretary of state checks were garnisheed to pay debts more than once.) Although she never directly asked her friend for money, Holliday offered.

"I'm an African-American and she's an African-American," he told Westword in a July 1997 interview. "My concern was, what will this look like--the first black secretary of state filing for personal bankruptcy? I thought that maybe I could help out the cause. I had the money, so I lent it to her. I just went to the bank and withdrew $2,700 in cash."

Hobbs had quit his post at the same time, and so Holliday applied for the job of elections chief. Five months later Buckley gave it to him. Soon after that, Holliday began looking for a new house. He asked Buckley for repayment on the loan. She said she didn't have it.

Whether or not it was coincidence, Holliday and Buckley began butting heads soon after. In early 1996, Holliday says, Buckley, in a now-familiar pattern, systematically began stripping him of his duties. For one three-week period, the state's chief elections bureaucrat says he did little more than act as a receptionist, answering phones. In March 1996, he, too, left a job he says had become impossible.

Bill Compton was hired the following month as Buckley's third elections director. A lawyer by training, he came highly recommended. In Alabama, a state whose soft regional twang he still carries, Compton had worked in the attorney general's office and then as the state's elections chief. He'd served four secretaries of state and two attorneys general.

He recalls his final job interview with Buckley going well--"very pleasant"--although she warned that the elections division had some problem employees and that she was looking for someone who could run it without her constant attention. She offered the job, and he accepted it.

"The first six months went fine," he says, "until I started showing some initiative." Compton says his suggestions weren't earthshaking: He recommended regular meetings of the division's entire staff in an attempt to improve communication and solicit workers' ideas, along with a few other, smaller changes. "But she would not allow me to implement any changes at all in the elections office," he says.

Compton, like many others who have worked with Buckley, hypothesizes that her odd behavior can be traced to personal insecurities--insecurities evident even before she was elected. Burton, who worked with Buckley for eighteen years before quitting in August 1995, says Buckley was so paranoid she carried a handgun wherever she went. "She used to call it 'my friend,'" Burton recalls. "She'd carry it in her purse or underneath her car seat."

When elected secretary of state, that insecurity revealed itself in Buckley's deep distrust of her employees, particularly those who seemed to know as much as she did or more. "She didn't want anybody around her who knew more or looked better," says Burton. "Which is the opposite of good management." Adds Hobbs: "Vikki seemed to be threatened by people who knew more than her, and she seemed to drive them off."

This past July, Compton became the latest to come to the same conclusion. Like Hobbs, he soon found himself facing a closed door whenever he asked to speak to his boss. "She'd say, 'I'll speak to you when I have time,'" he says. "But she never did." Like Smith and Burton, Compton was constantly demoted without knowing why. Like Holliday, he was told he must man the reception desk for one day each week--a prodigious waste of his time and experience.

And so, like many other people who have worked for Buckley's elections division, Compton quit, frustrated beyond repair. "Vikki's problems are a failure to take advice, refusal to listen to her staff and a complete inability to effectively manage a state constitutional office," he says. "She has micromanaged the office about to the point of destruction. Her largest constituency, the county clerks and recorders, see her as irrelevant."

True enough, agrees Joan Fitz-Gerald, clerk and recorder of Jefferson County, which, with 329,000 registered voters, is the largest in the state. "We've learned to cope without going to the secretary of state's office," she says. "She doesn't matter to us anymore. You can only not rely on someone for so long before you figure out how to do your job differently and without her."

It wasn't always so. Because the county clerks rely so heavily on the secretary of state to interpret state laws and to run elections, the relationship between them has been a strong, close one. In the beginning, Buckley was no different. The state's 63 county clerks gather twice a year, in June and December, to discuss business. Traditionally, the secretary of state has made an appearance. In December 1994, a month after her election, Buckley attended her first meeting.

"There was a genuine outpouring of support," recalls Fitz-Gerald. "We all wished her well and told her to call anytime with questions or if she needed help. But that quickly turned in the first year. It started with her reticence in returning calls and progressed beyond that when she stopped answering questions entirely."

The clerks weren't merely being snubbed, though. Abandoning a critical aspect of her job, Buckley didn't do much of anything to help them. At most legislative sessions, for example, Colorado's lawmakers pass new elections laws. After that, it is up to the secretary of state to write the specific rules the county clerks then use to implement the new laws. Since Buckley was elected, three sets of new laws have been passed. She has not issued any new rules, leaving the clerks to flounder by themselves.

As a result of Buckley's inattention, Fitz-Gerald says, the county clerks have formed a loose network among themselves that purposefully excludes the secretary of state. When they have policy questions, they call each other. When they have legal questions, they contact their county attorneys. Buckley has responded by withdrawing further; since June 1997, she has stopped attending the clerks' biannual meetings.

At the latest clerks' meeting, this past June, the strained relationship was clear. "We had invited candidates for the secretary of state to make presentations to the clerks," Fitz-Gerald recalls. Because Buckley wasn't attending anymore, an open question was thrown out to the assembled--and mostly Republican--clerks pondering who the next secretary of state would be: Would anyone like to speak on candidate Vikki Buckley's behalf?

And no one did.

Following Buckley's election, the December 1994 issue of the industry magazine Bingo Journal was jubilant. "Santa's gift to Colorado Bingo!" the cover headline rejoiced.

Buckley set the tone for her administration of bingo early on: During her campaign, she promised to keep the secretary of state's office off the backs of those who ran the games. Once elected, she fired Frederick Young, one of the office's most aggressive investigators. Within weeks of taking office, she issued a month-long moratorium on all new bingo investigations. A year later, responding to complaints from a small group of bingo-hall owners, Buckley asked Governor Roy Romer to have the Colorado Bureau of Investigation look into allegations that two of her own bingo inspectors were on the take.

Young was rehired earlier this year after a long legal battle. The CBI investigators not only completely cleared Buckley's bingo inspectors of any misconduct ("Investigation and interviews...did not disclose any information indicating that...any bingo investigator was being paid off by any bingo industry member," the November 1996 report said), they also ended up taking the secretary of state to task for inadequate procedures.

By then, however, the bingo industry had received the message loud and clear.

In December 1996, when the state auditor criticized Buckley for her bingo-related campaign contributions, it wasn't simply for accepting money from an industry she regulated. "We all take money from everybody under the sun," explains Representative Norma Anderson, chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee, which oversaw Buckley's performance review.

"But," Anderson adds, "when you take your money from only one area, that's a problem. With Vikki's bingo contributions, it was close--but not close enough--to bring charges. It was mostly about perception."

That perception has stuck. "Is she influenced by campaign money? Yes. Absolutely," says Lance Cayne, owner of Davenport Enterprises, which, with a fifty-year history, is Colorado's oldest bingo-supply company. He admits that it's a difficult charge to prove. But there aren't many bingo-hall owners, suppliers and games managers who don't believe it--and that belief alone is influencing the way the games are played in the state.

The bingo industry spends money on Vikki Buckley in several ways. The most direct way is campaign contributions from hall owners and bingo-equipment suppliers. Although these groups have given the secretary of state money regularly, it hasn't added up to more than $10,000.

The second way is more indirect and occurs largely through an organization called the Bingo/Raffle Association of Volunteer Organizations. The not-for-profit BRAVO is controlled by the Doyle family--Kevin and his father, Homer, an accountant. Its self-described mission is advancing the cause of bingo in the state.

But for the past four years BRAVO has more resembled a political action committee than a charity. Although supposedly representing the interests of nonprofit charities that use bingo to support themselves, BRAVO has spent the majority of its money on one thing. It has given lobbyist Freda Poundstone, a close friend of Buckley's, nearly $150,000 since 1995 to place the industry's agenda in front of the secretary of state ("Buy the Numbers," March 20, 1997).

The group has also made the $500 monthly payments on the lobbyist's Cadillac and bought $6,000 worth of lawn furniture for Poundstone's Greenwood Village house. The furniture came in handy when Poundstone hosted two fundraisers there for Buckley in the summer of 1996, attended exclusively by representatives of the bingo industry. One raised $3,000 for Buckley.

The third way the industry has funneled money to Buckley appears to be illegal.

Buckley's 1996 campaign-finance reports list 25 individuals who donated $500 to the candidate. Not all of them could be reached for comment, but many appear to have some things in common. For instance, Toni Worline of Carbondale says she knows absolutely nothing about Buckley but agreed to donate money to her at the request of a neighbor named Anita Long. Long, who also donated $500, is a friend of the Doyles'; Anita's son also gave $500 to Buckley.

Several of the individual donors said they had no knowledge of ever giving Buckley money and were puzzled about why their names would appear on her finance statements.

"I don't know anything about that person," says Glenn Willis, who, according to Buckley's campaign-finance report, donated $500 to the secretary of state. "I don't even know what position she's running for. The name sounds remotely familiar. But I sure didn't give her $500. I would have remembered that."

In addition to not having given Buckley money when elections records indicate they did, Willis, Rosen, Stringer and Vestal do have another connection. All share the same accountant: Homer Doyle. (Robert Dosmann, who later said he may have given money to Buckley, says he once worked with Doyle on a bingo-related project.)

Whether Doyle funneled money to Buckley and falsified campaign contribution statements may never be known for certain; he did not return phone calls. But one bingo-hall owner, who requested anonymity, confirms that in early 1996 Doyle approached several people, including the hall owner, with a proposal: He would give them $500 cash if they would write Buckley a campaign contribution check for the same amount. The subterfuge would be necessary because state campaign-finance laws prohibit any single donation of more than $500 to the secretary of state.

Has the money bought preferential treatment? Only Buckley herself knows. However, bingo inspectors seem to have built several good cases against the Doyle family, only to watch them dissolve without Buckley's support.

Homer and Kevin Doyle manage bingo games held to raise money for several nonprofit organizations. They also sit on the boards of several of those organizations: Blessed Margaret of Costello/Beacon of Dignity, Concerned Parents for Education, Our Lady of the Rosary Academy, American Foundation for the Handicapped and, of course, BRAVO.

And most of the money raised by these groups seems to stay in the Doyle family. Money collected in a bingo game for Concerned Parents, for instance, frequently is donated to BRAVO, or Beacon of Dignity, or the American Foundation for the Handicapped.

It could be that the Doyles simply want to give money to other worthy organizations with which they happen to be affiliated. But such in-house money-shuffling could also serve another purpose. A charity must report every penny it earns from bingo to the secretary of state's office. However, once a nonprofit donates that money to another organization, it disappears from state inspectors' radar screens; the state may no longer legally demand an accounting.

The Doyles' short-armed donations first attracted the attention of others in the bingo industry in 1996, and the secretary of state's office soon received a rash of complaints about the family. Buckley seemed hesitant to look into the matter--an apprehension noted by one of her own bingo inspectors. "No action was taken or direction given to resolve these complaints until it was forced by the persistence of the complainants," Patrick Ryan wrote in a grievance he later filed against his boss.

Finally, in February 1997, Ryan and another inspector, Chuck Green, were given the go-ahead to begin examining the Doyle family's bingo businesses. Buckley's support didn't last long, however. In fact, it soon turned into active opposition.

On February 25 she notified Ryan and Green that they were being pulled from the case and placed on leave, the result of several complaints she'd received about unprofessional behavior during an inspection of a Doyle-run bingo game. Three months later Buckley issued a "corrective action" to both men for "rude, intimidating and harassing behavior" in the course of their digging into the Doyles.

Ryan appealed and, at a State Personnel Board hearing in April 1998, he was cleared. The reason: One of the women who had filed a complaint against him admitted that she hadn't written the complaint. She had been given a pre-written letter by Kevin Doyle and asked to sign it. In fact, the woman continued, she wasn't even at the bingo hall the night Ryan supposedly harassed her.

Meanwhile, nothing has been done about the Doyles. They continue to run bingo games several nights a week at a handful of Denver-area bingo halls.

The impression that the bingo industry can get away with whatever it wants under Buckley is not confined to the Doyle family. Earlier this spring, state investigators began focusing their attention on a Doyle-like web of nonprofits that also appeared to be using bingo to funnel money to each other. Tens of thousands of dollars have crisscrossed between Missionary Flights, Interfaith Advancement Ministries, Handicapped Media and Christ the King Church. All were controlled by the same people.

And there was another problem. When investigators asked the president of Missionary Flights about the bingo games his organization was hosting--and which had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars--he didn't know what they were talking about.

The bingo inspector in charge of the case, Gerald Galindo, declined to comment for this story. But according to three sources, the Friday morning before Galindo was to turn in his report to Buckley, Buckley ate in the Capitol's basement cafeteria--with the same people Galindo had been investigating. Later, when she returned from the meal, Buckley called Galindo and demanded his materials on the investigation. He asked if he could remove some notes first; she refused.

The file was later returned to Galindo. Bingo investigators, in turn, gave it to the Aurora police, who are considering bringing charges based on the theory that the reason Missionary Flights' president didn't know about its bingo games is because the license was forged. (The games manager for Missionary Flights has voluntarily surrendered the suspect bingo license--and gone to work running bingo games for the Doyles.)

Did Buckley's meeting with her investigator's targets taint the inquiry? In some ways it doesn't matter: The episode further reinforced the appearance that the industry was on autopilot, free to operate without any troublesome meddling by the secretary of state.

That, in turn, has created an anything-goes atmosphere among those who are supposed to be regulated by Buckley. The attitude has shown up in a near-complete disregard for state bingo inspectors.

In November 1996, according to personnel department records, bingo inspector Galindo arrived at a south Denver bingo hall as part of an ongoing investigation. He asked to review the hall's records, as he is permitted to do by law. Not only did the hall refuse to permit the inspector to look at the records, the scene quickly took on a feeling of contemptuous slapstick.

After being refused entry to the hall, Galindo called the police to escort him in. But when they arrived, the hall manager told the officer that Galindo was a fraud. The evidence? The owner stated he had been contacted personally by Governor Romer, who informed him that Galindo was impersonating an officer. Romer, he added, had signed an executive order stating that Galindo was not allowed to enter the bingo hall. Galindo was turned away.

Buckley offered no help. In fact, the following week Galindo was disciplined for improperly reporting the two hours of work he did that night. He appealed; on September 3, an administrative law judge ordered Buckley to pay him for his work that night.

The effect of the secretary of state's de facto deregulation of bingo extends far beyond a handful of neglected investigations. In the past few years the game of bingo has changed dramatically. The introduction of high-tech electronic machines into what was once a paper-and-marker activity has steered bingo further away from the church basement and closer to the slot machines of Central City and Black Hawk.

And most people in the industry agree that Buckley has not kept pace with the changes. In the past year, two new machines have begun showing up in the state's bingo halls. One looks like a slot machine and reads pull-tabs. The other permits a player to keep track of many bingo games with an electronic counter. The use of both has spread rapidly.

Bingo has precise laws explaining how the games must be played in Colorado; the new electronic games fall into unexplored gray areas. Unfortunately, says Lynn Ellins, director of the Colorado Bingo Association, Buckley has yet to make an official legal ruling on either. So how do players know they're not illegal? Why has the game's use spread? "It hasn't been stopped," Ellis points out.

Indeed, like the ballot initiatives, new bingo machines seem to have appeared in Colorado by default. Some, or all, may eventually turn out to be legal. But, says Debbie Lambrecht, an accountant whose primary business is helping nonprofits balance their books, consideration must be given to the fact that, as a rule, the machines end up costing charities more money and making a greater profit for hall owners and suppliers.

"The nonprofits are making less and less money," she says. "And a lot of that is due to the new electronic machines that are being put into the halls." Because most charities don't own their own bingo halls, she adds, the nonprofit organizations are being forced to use the newer, more expensive games against their better judgment.

Across the country, it has not gone unnoticed that in Colorado, bingo has shifted from an activity that operates to benefit charities to one that favors hall owners and suppliers. In the past several months, according to one secretary of state employee intimately familiar with bingo regulation, Vikki Buckley's office has fielded calls from bingo-supply companies in Arizona, New Jersey and Nevada. They wanted to know how they could get into the business in Colorado. They'd heard it had become unregulated.

The Colorado Secretary of State's office once had a reputation for being among the most far-sighted, and competent, in the country. Under Republican Natalie Meyer, it was one of the first to make corporate and campaign records available to the public by computer. But Buckley's failure to deal with new technology isn't limited to bingo; she has yet to make campaign-finance reports available over the Internet, as she promised she would two years ago. That's just another in a long line of complaints about her office's work on elections issues.

Carolyne Kelley started working in the secretary of state's elections division in 1992, charged with overseeing the petition initiative process. Like many others, she worked hard to get Buckley elected two years later. And this past July, like so many others before her, she quit, disenchanted by an office and a boss that seemed to be spinning from one blunder to the next, with no end in sight. "It gets to the point where you're embarrassed to be part of this," she says.

Colorado voters should feel the same way.

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