Republican candidate for attorney general 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 had 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 filed by Ethan Black of ProgressNow Colorado, who recently violated campaign finance laws and was fined more than $16,000. It was the second such fine for the hike on his “voter guide” targeting Republicans in the last year.
The most recent complaint against the Kellner campaign, filed Oct. 4, alleges that the Republican Association of Attorneys General held a fundraiser for Kellner on Aug. 28 at The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs. Kellner did not disclose expenses or in-kind donations related to the use of resort facilities, space, food, beverages, waiters, bartenders, or other goods or services for fundraising.
The complaint alleges that the campaign: “unlawfully failed to disclose the expenses its candidate committee made to cover these costs; RAGA covered such costs and Kellner unlawfully failed to disclose RAGA’s in-kind contributions; or the private complex covered such costs and Kellner unlawfully not disclose the resort’s in-kind contributions.”
All are violations of state campaign finance law, according to the complaint.
RAGA, through the independent spending committee Colorado Freedom IEC, has contributed $357,000 in support of Kellner.
Kellner’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
The repeated violations raise questions about Kellner’s ability to follow the law, according to Bruce Brown, an Idaho Springs attorney and former district attorney for the Fifth Judicial District.
“Colorado’s campaign finance rules play an important role in ensuring that voters get transparent and timely information. A candidate for a leadership position in law enforcement, such as attorney general, must meet a higher standard high given the need to set the best possible example of leadership by the rule of law,” he said. “Disregard for electoral rules should call into question Mr. Kellner’s ability to fulfill the duties of the office he seeks, as that an attorney general has a legal duty to assist in the conduct of fair elections.
Kellner’s first two complaints were filed in May and July. The Kellner campaign was found to have violated campaign finance laws, but was allowed to correct those violations.
The May complaint said Kellner had received an illegal campaign contribution of $500 on Jan. 27, 2022, from Michael Fields, a professional lobbyist for Advance Colorado Action.
That contribution came during the legislative session. State candidates, including attorney general, are prohibited from accepting contributions from lobbyists while the legislature is in session. Fields claimed that he did not know that it was illegal.
Under state law, Kellner was allowed to “cure” the rape. Kellner said he didn’t know Fields was a lobbyist and the contribution was returned in May.
Fields made another $500 contribution in July.
The second violation, in July, alleged that Kellner held a fundraiser at a donor’s residence in Douglas County.
The donor, Ron von Lembke, “allegedly incurred expenses for goods and services consumed” during the April fundraiser. Those expenses are considered in-kind campaign donations. Von Lembke also contributed the maximum donation of $1,250 per cycle to the Kellner campaign, bringing the total of in-kind and monetary contributions above the limit allowed by state law.
In-kind donations were not reported, another alleged violation of campaign finance law.
Kellner filed an intent to cure in August while the Division of Elections conducted its investigation.
The corrected campaign finance report said another donor, Karen Bergey of Lone Tree, contributed food and drink for the fundraiser, valued at $150.
No other costs were incurred for fundraising, according to the motion to dismiss filed by the Division of Elections. The motion stated: “Respondent violated Colorado campaign finance law by failing to timely submit an in-kind contribution related to the April 20, 2022 fundraising event.”
While the number of complaints filed against Kellner is historic for the office, another current candidate for constitutional office has more.
Secretary of State Jena Griswold had 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 lawsuit last year, filed by attorney Suzanne Taheri on behalf of Defend Colorado, though it was dismissed for lack of evidence of a violation.
In the 2021 complaint, Weiser is 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 that he had followed all applicable campaign finance laws related to the event, paid $437.50 to attend the fundraising event, reported those expenses and all contributions derived from the fundraiser.