Historic third campaign finance complaint filed against GOP AG candidate’s campaign | Elections

Republican attorney general candidate John Kellner is facing a third campaign finance complaint, a historic benchmark among those seeking to become Colorado’s chief legal officer.

No attorney general or other candidate for that office has more than one complaint in the 22 years TRACER, the campaign finance database run by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, has tracked those complaints.

The three complaints against the Kellner campaign were all filed by Ethan Black of ProgressNow Colorado, which recently ran afoul of campaign finance laws and was fined more than $16,000. It was the group’s second such fine over its Republican-targeted “voter’s guide” in the past year.

ProgressNow Colorado agrees to pay fine over primary voter guide that failed to disclose information

The most recent complaint against the Kellner campaign, filed Oct. 4, alleges the Republican Attorney Generals Association held a fundraiser on Aug. 28 for Kellner at The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs and that Kellner failed to disclose expenditures or in-kind donations related to the use of resort facilities, space, food, beverages, waitstaff, bartenders, or other goods or services for the fundraiser.

The complaint alleges the campaign either “illegally failed to disclose expenditures his candidate committee made to cover these costs; [that] RAGA covered such costs and Kellner illegally failed to disclose in-kind contributions from RAGA; or the private resort covered such costs and Kellner illegally failed to disclose in-kind contributions from the resort.”

All are violations of state campaign finance law, according to the complaint.

RAGA, through independent expenditure committee Colorado Freedom IEC, has contributed $357,000 in support of Kellner. 

Kellner’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The allegations raise questions about Kellner’s ability to follow the law, according to Bruce Brown, an attorney in Idaho Springs and the former district attorney for the Fifth Judicial District.

“Colorado campaign finance rules serve an important role in assuring voters obtain transparent and timely information. A candidate for a law enforcement leadership position, such as attorney general, should and is held to a higher standard given the need to set the best possible leadership example for the rule of law,” he said. “Indifference to election rules should call into question Mr. Kellner’s ability to fulfill the duties of the office he is seeking, since an attorney general has a legal duty to assist in the conduct of fair elections.” 

The first two Kellner complaints were filed in May and July. The Kellner campaign was found to have violated campaign finance laws on both but was allowed to fix those violations.

The May complaint said Kellner had taken an illegal $500 campaign contribution on Jan. 27, 2022 from Michael Fields, a professional lobbyist for Advance Colorado Action.

That contribution came in during the legislative session. Statewide candidates, including for attorney general, are prohibited from accepting lobbyist contributions while the legislature is in session. Fields claimed he didn’t know that was illegal.

Kellner was allowed under state law to “cure” the violation. Kellner said he was unaware Fields was a lobbyist and the contribution was returned in May.

Fields made another $500 contribution in July.

The second complaint, in July, said Kellner held a fundraiser at a contributor’s residence in Douglas County and received an in-kind donation that the campaign did not report, a potential violation of campaign finance law.

The contributor, Ron von Lembke, “presumably incurred expenses for goods and services consumed” during the April fundraiser, according to that complaint. Those expenses are considered in-kind campaign donations and since von Lembke also contributed the maximum $1,250 per cycle donation to the Kellner campaign, the combination of the in-kind and monetary contributions exceeded the allowable limit under state law, the complaint said. 

Election officials found the complaint valid and concluded Kellner violated campaign finance laws. 

Kellner submitted an intent to cure in August while the investigation was underway by the Elections Division.

The corrected campaign finance report said another donor, Karen Bergey of Lone Tree, contributed the food and drink for the fundraiser, valued at $150.

No other costs were incurred for the fundraiser, according to a motion by the Elections Division. The motion said “respondent violated Colorado campaign finance law by failing to timely file an in-kind contribution related to the April 20, 2022, fundraising event.”

While the number of complaints lodged against Kellner is historic for the office, one other current candidate for constitutional office has more.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold faces five complaints filed against her this year, which are being handled by the Attorney General’s Office and are still open. The status of those complaints is unknown.

Incumbent Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser also faced a complaint last year, filed by attorney Suzanne Taheri on behalf of Defend Colorado, though it was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

In the 2021 complaint, Weiser was alleged to have participated in a fundraising event as part of a trip to Hawaii in June 2021 to attend the Attorney General Alliance meeting.

In his response, Weiser denied the allegations. He said he had followed all applicable campaign finance laws tied to the event, paid $437.50 for attending the fundraising event, reported that expenditure as well as all contributions stemming from the fundraiser.


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