Gov. Jared Polis given initial clearance in TABOR check complaint
Colorado election officials found no evidence that Gov. Jared Polis violated state law when he sent residents a letter alongside their tax refund checks earlier this summer, and they’ve now asked the Secretary of State’s Office to dismiss a complaint accusing him of misleading voters.
The Secretary of State’s Office has been investigating the letter for a month, after the chairwoman of the state Republican Party, Kristi Burton Brown, filed a formal complaint accusing Polis of misleading voters by branding the refunds as the “Colorado Cashback” program, rather than a requirement under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Polis has said he sent the letter to explain the purpose of the checks, while Burton Brown and other Republicans have accused him of using public funds to boost his own reelection campaign.
But after talking with Polis, Burton Brown and lawmakers involved in the cashback program, investigators with the office’s elections division found “insufficient” evidence to suggest Polis had violated state law. Polis’s letter, they wrote, fell within the confines of his official duties as governor, and the “Colorado Cashback” program was a legislatively approved program, rather than a campaign effort, as Burton Brown had alleged.
Alongside a summary of their findings, the division earlier this week asked the deputy secretary of state, Christopher Beall, to formally dismiss the complaint. The deputy director has 35 days to decide whether to dismiss the complaint, the secretary’s office said.
Polis’s campaign did not return a request for comment sent early Tuesday afternoon. Annie Orloff, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, declined to comment because the complaint is still considered open until Beall makes a determination.
In a statement, Burton Brown called Secretary of State Jena Griswold “a partisan hack” and said she expected the complaint to be dismissed.
“The fact remains that Jared Polis and the Democrats are pretending to support TABOR in a tough election year just to buy votes,” she wrote.
At issue is the refund checks and the manner in which Polis and the state distributed them this summer. The state legislature passed a law earlier this year allowing the refunds to go out earlier than they otherwise would’ve and under the “Colorado Cashback” moniker. Polis has said the checks were intended to provide relief to Coloradans struggling against inflation, and he sent a letter out, complete with his signature, with the checks explaining their purpose.
But his letter didn’t mention TABOR, Burton Brown wrote in her complaint, which is what required the refunds be sent in the first place, albeit later than the cashback program required. She noted that the state was spending $2.7 million to distribute the checks, and she accused Polis of coming up with “Colorado Cashback” as part of his reelection campaign.
But state elections officials found no evidence to support Burton Brown’s accusations. “Colorado Cashback” was not coined by Polis’s campaign but by legislators and Polis ahead of an April press conference, they wrote, and they found no evidence the term had been used prior to that.
They also dismissed Burton Brown’s contention that the letter Polis sent alongside the checks was electioneering material. The letter “does not concern the nomination, retention, or election of any person to any public office, nor does it reference, let alone support or oppose, any state or local ballot measure,” the investigators wrote. The letter was determined to have been sent during the normal course of Polis’s duties as governor, they said, and Burton Brown “failed to provide evidence” proving otherwise.
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