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Sun Investigation

Gov. Jared Polis recall effort mired by infighting and legal questions about donors, review finds

The Official Recall Colorado Governor Jared Polis committee doesn't have the support to start its recall petition campaign July 8, but a rival group plans to move forward

Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters about Colorado's 2019 legislative session on May 3, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

A committee to recall Gov. Jared Polis has raised more than $100,000 since March, but its reports are littered with errors and its online donors don’t always match the information it gives the state.

Nearly 120 of the 1,337 itemized individual donations to the Official Recall Colorado Governor Jared Polis committee don’t have the required donor addresses, according to a review by The Colorado Sun. Another 43 donations of over $100 lack employer information. And online contributions reported through one fundraising website conflict with legal filings with the secretary of state.

Organizers insist they followed state guidelines, but others aren’t sure.

The secretary of state’s office on Tuesday rejected a complaint filed earlier this month about the Official Recall committee’s online fundraising reports based on a technical issue, saying it “failed to specifically identify a violation of Colorado campaign finance law.” But The Sun’s review of the committees filings found a variety of discrepancies that remain unresolved.

The reporting issues are part of a web of confusion, infighting and questions surrounding several political groups that all profess a mission to recall Polis, the Democrat who took office in January after a 10-point win in the 2018 election. 

Already, at least six anti-Polis committees registered by three different groups are raising money for a potential recall election. Only two of the groups have a significant amount of money to date. And the total collections are a fraction of what the groups would need to run an effective campaign. 

The administrator for an Official Recall group in Weld County told its supporters on Facebook this week that it would not start collecting signatures in early July as planned.

Juli-Andra Fuentes, who leads the Official Recall committee, confirmed the current situation. She said she estimates it will take at least $4.4 million, and her group won’t initiate the recall process until it has more money, enough volunteers and a candidate to replace Polis.

“We aren’t planning to file and fail,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

The organizations are being run by little-known political activists and are not officially affiliated with the Colorado Republican Party. At least three of the people organizing recall committees are unaffiliated voters. U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the state party chairman, advocated for recall elections against Democrats when he took the job earlier this year, but so far he remains uncommitted to the Polis committees.

“Efforts to recall Gov. Polis or any other elected official should be grassroots-led and independent of the state Republican Party. However, we will evaluate these movements as they proceed, just as we do with any potential recall or election,” Buck said in a statement.

Some GOP political observers say the gargantuan effort to recall a governor in Colorado — especially one who spent $23 million from his own pocket to get elected — requires more financial and strategic resources than any of the groups appear able to marshal.

“They’re good people,” said Jon Caldara, a prominent Polis critic and president of the Denver-based libertarian Independence Institute, referring to those behind the recall efforts. “I don’t think anyone really believes they’re going to recall Polis.”

Polis, meanwhile, has dismissed the recall threats, saying he’s doing what he told voters he would do.

The Official Recall committee registered in March, but the petition effort to win a special recall election can’t begin until six months after the governor takes office, or July 8.

A ballot question to recall the governor would require signatures from 25 percent of the ballots cast in the most recent election, or in Polis’ case, support from 631,266 valid voters. That’s a time-intensive, costly endeavor that’s never happened before in Colorado.

The Official Recall committee has raised the most money, and had more than $64,000 in cash on June 20, according to a report filed Tuesday. It spent nearly $40,000, paying more than $13,000 on signs and advertising and $5,000 to former Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s law firm for consulting.

Fuentes formed the self-declared Official Recall committee and created a 527 political committee called the Official Recall Election Committee, to which she’s the sole donor of $30. She said the 527 would support an eventual candidate to challenge Polis, but would not name the potential rivals she’s talked to about the campaign.

Her son, Robert Rojas filed paperwork to create Colorado Against Polis earlier this month “to bring all recall groups under one issue committee… and direct a unified recall action.” But so far it has not materialized.

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Questions about donors before recall push

The Official Recall committee raised $24,000 from April through mid-May via FreedomFy, an online fundraising site operated by the Independence Institute. The group also raised more than $6,000 on a GoFundMe site. GoFundMe allows political fundraising by properly registered organizations. 

On April 11, the FreedomFy site identifies nearly $2,700 in donations. But the Official Recall committee’s reports to the state list only one $25 donation for that date, according to The Sun’s review. Caldara has come under scrutiny for the fees charged by the FreedomFy platform but he said the institute is making little money from the fundraising platform thus far.

In Colorado, political committees are required to report the names and addresses for individual donors who give $20 or more in a reporting period. Occupations are required for donations $100 or more. The information reported for 19 of the 61 named contributions at that level through the FreedomFy platform didn’t match the reports filed with the secretary of state. 

“The law says that that’s reportable as of the date the contribution is made, not as of the date that it is transferred to their account,” said Matt Arnold, a conservative activist and former Republican who operates the nonprofit group Campaign Integrity Watchdog. He also works as a campaign finance consultant. “Some folks are either sloppy about that or don’t do their due diligence or just don’t know the law.”

More than $18,000 of the group’s donations weren’t itemized, apparently coming in amounts less than $20.

The Official Recall committee has filed four monthly reports with the state to date. The May report has been amended three times, the April report twice. The May report originally listed $207.28 in fees paid to FreedomFy, while a June 20 update reported fees of $1,322.18. The law allows amended reports, but multiple revisions may raise questions about compliance.

Fuentes, an unaffiliated voter who is the registered agent for the committee, said the group’s accounting is by the book, and pointed to the secretary of state’s rejection of the incomplete complaint. She said her group is “making sure we are doing everything by the book and to the penny. We have reported everything.”

Gov. Jared Polis leads a rally May 6, 2019, for Colorado Democrats celebrating the party’s work during the 2019 lawmaking term. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Polis recall committees at conflict with one another

Earlier this month, a new group, Dismiss Polis, approached the Official Recall group and another existing group, Resist Polis PAC, about collaborating on the recall effort, as Colorado Politics first reported. The Official Recall group apparently rejected the idea, and cautioned about the actions of other groups on its Facebook page.

Fuentes said her group is grassroots and “we’re not giving (our money) to the political operatives,” which is only the latest salvo in the bickering and finger-pointing among those involved in the Official Recall committee and the Resist Polis PAC. 

Karen Kataline, a conservative commentator and spokeswoman for Dismiss Polis, said the group is focused on the recall effort, not disagreements with other similar entities. 

“This is a vehicle that welcomes everyone,” she said, referring to her group. “It’s not about personalities, it’s about the future of Colorado and what kind of Colorado are we going to have. … There will be drama. But let’s face it, there’s always drama in politics.”

Kataline said she’s a former Republican who switched her registration to unaffiliated when she began doing media work a couple of years ago. She acknowledged the challenge of recalling a governor: “I certainly think it’s possible and I know that it’s very difficult.”

Thomas M. Good IV is behind the Recall Et All, a committee formed in late March to “recall any legislator or statewide elected official who refuses to stand up for liberty and freedom.” He is also the registered agent for the Resist Polis PAC, an independent expenditure group, known more commonly as a super PAC, that formed in 2018 to oppose Polis in the general election. But it raised only about $500 and spent nothing during that election. 

Resist Polis is raising money online through its own website and has a series of private Facebook pages devoted to promoting a recall election. The group’s main Facebook page, which is private, has about 2,000 members.

It had more than $25,000 in the bank on May 31, the group’s last filing, while Recall Et All, created in late March, reports raising $10 so far in a single contribution from Good.

Good said his groups are collaborating with Dismiss Polis, which will gather voter signatures on the petition, even though the Official Recall Group is not.

“The ball’s in their court,” said Good, referring to the Official Recall committee. “We have opted to circulate a third-party neutral petition (via Dismiss Polis), and that gives them the opportunity to do the right thing and do the same. That way they can run their campaign the way they see fit without having to work with us, since they obviously have chosen not to.”

Kataline said Dismiss Polis hopes to file paperwork for petitions on July 8.

Jared Polis Promise Tracker: A look at the progress on his 2018 campaign pledges

But prospects for another recall petition don’t look good

Meanwhile, the Official Recall Colorado Governor Jared Polis group appears to be faltering at the start. The private Facebook page, which has nearly 41,000 members, recently included warnings to avoid the other groups’ petitions, as well as pleas for more donations. 

If more than one petition is circulated, a voter’s signature will only count once — on whichever petition is turned in first.

Even as a post on the Weld County recall committee page informed supports that it didn’t have the volunteers or the money to proceed early next month, it tried to reassure critics of Polis. “This is a big animal we’re trying to take down,” it read. “It will not go down without a long hard fight!”

In the interview, Fuentes echoed the sentiment. “If we have money and the people and a candidate we will file.” Asked about the group’s fundraising thus far, she said, “the money goes to the cause.”

Arnold questioned whether any of the groups aiming to recall Polis can successfully conduct a recall petition drive.

“It doesn’t appear to me that those groups (have) the organization or the resources to pull off the momentous task of gathering more than 600,000 signatures to put a recall on the ballot, much less be able to carry through with a campaign to get a replacement candidate,” said Arnold, who is working on a campaign to recall the Douglas County sheriff.

Only three gubernatorial recalls have been held in U.S. history, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. North Dakota voters removed the governor in 1921, and California voters removed Gray Davis and voted in Arnold Schwarzenagger in 2003. Wisconsin voters rejected a 2012 attempt to recall GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who went on to win a second term but lost reelection in 2018.

Even though he agrees the groups will likely fail, the Independence Institute’s Caldara said he understands the frustration some Coloradans feel about the 2018 election that solidified Democratic control in the legislature and governor’s office.

“It’s a manifestation of this massive leftist lurch we’ve felt here in the last half year in Colorado,” Caldara said. “They want to do something.”

Updated June 27 at 6:40 a.m.: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of donations to the Official Recall Colorado Governor Jared Polis committee that lacked occupation and mailing address information. The occupations of donors are required only on individual donations $100 or more.


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