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A fundraising technique used by two committees gathering signatures to recall Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis is the subject of a campaign finance complaint to the Secretary of State’s office.

The Colorado Sun first reported the use of the “Polis Penny” by signature gatherers last month. Groups gathering signatures are setting out jars to collect donations. But the name, address, occupation and employer of any donor giving $20 or more must be reported on campaign finance disclosures.

To avoid such disclosure, those giving $20 receive a commemorative 2019 penny wrapped in plastic and attached to a card explaining the recall operation.

A photo of the “Polis Penny” and the language it comes with. (Sandra Fish, The Colorado Sun)

The complaint, filed Wednesday and first reported by 9News, says that practice violates Colorado’s campaign finance laws. It claims that two committees, Resist Polis PAC and Dismiss Polis, “have both accepted anonymous donations and kept them.”

The Colorado Sun article is among the evidence cited in the complaint, which was filed by prominent Democratic campaign finance and elections attorney Mark Grueskin, who is representing Denver resident Jamie Sarche. Grueskin is working for Democracy First, a committee formed to combat attempts to recall Polis and state lawmakers.

MORE: Who’s signing the petition to recall Gov. Jared Polis? People who feel left out in Colorado.

“They have to play by the rules and we are going to ensure that they are playing by the rules,” said Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for Democracy First. “We learned in 2013 that sometimes the best defense is a good offense.” 

In 2013, two Democratic state senators were recalled and a third resigned after the legislature passed strengthened gun laws.

Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters are a news conference unveiling a study about outcomes of students who attend state colleges and universities. The news conference was held at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Polis says he’s not worried about the recall effort, but has used it to push supporters to give him money. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Karen Kataline, a spokeswoman for Dismiss Polis, which is coordinating signature gathering for the recall, said the “Polis Penny” was reviewed with the Secretary of State’s office. She said many donors fear retaliation if their information is shared.

“We have a lot of scared people who don’t want to” have names and address disclosed, Kataline said. “In keeping completely within the (review by the) Secretary of State’s office, we give them a penny back.”

Kataline noted that some petition gatherers in Wheat Ridge were allegedly recently harassed, citing a video posted to conservative news site Complete Colorado. “We had two older ladies attacked while they were gathering signatures in Wheat Ridge,” she said.

Although the incident was reported to police, no criminal charges were filed, a Wheat Ridge police spokeswoman said.

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Hubbard said Democracy First has hired canvassers going door to door in some areas urging voters not to sign recall petitions. He said those people had nothing to do with the Wheat Ridge incident.

“We do have field teams, but our field teams are briefed on what the expectations are when they’re in the field,” he said.

The Polis recall group has until Sept. 6 to gather more than 630,000 petition signatures, a monumental task that’s never been accomplished in Colorado. Kataline said the group might have an idea of how many people have signed so far by the middle of next week, after a weekend focused on signature gathering.

Grueskin also filed a complaint Wednesday on Sarche’s behalf alleging than an abandoned campaign to recall Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan spent money that wasn’t reported. 

The Secretary of State’s office has 10 business days to dismiss the complaints or determine they require further investigation.

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Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette