Election 2021: Cherry Creek candidates accuse Bates of improper campaign filings

Incumbent says some allegations are incorrect and that another has been addressed

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/15/21

Kelly Bates, an incumbent Cherry Creek school board member who is running for a second term, is being accused by two other candidates of violating campaign finance law. One of her opponents as well …

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Election 2021: Cherry Creek candidates accuse Bates of improper campaign filings

Incumbent says some allegations are incorrect and that another has been addressed

Posted

Kelly Bates, an incumbent Cherry Creek school board member who is running for a second term, is being accused by two other candidates of violating campaign finance law.

One of her opponents as well as a candidate for school board in another area of the Cherry Creek district filed the accusations in late September.

Bates is running to continue representing Cherry Creek school board District D, the area that encompasses parts of east Centennial and southeast Aurora. Bates began her first term as a school board member in fall 2017. Her opponents are Schumé Navarro and Jennifer Gibbons. The election ends Nov. 2.

Gibbons and Creek District E candidate Bill Leach — who are campaigning together as a slate — filed complaints with the office of Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold alleging that Bates violated campaign finance law. Specifically, according to the office, they accused Bates of:

• Failing to register as a candidate within 10 days of announcing her candidacy.

• Reporting inaccurate and incomplete campaign contributor information.

• Unethical distribution of campaign materials by “distributing material as an official board member of CCSD at an official parents' council meeting, thus threatening the (organization's) 501(c)(3) status.” (It was unclear whether this accusation is relevant to state election law.)

The Secretary of State's Office's initial response to the complaints said that committees must list all contributions of $20 or more, including names and addresses of the contributors.

“Candidate committees must also disclose the occupation and employer of each person who has contributed one hundred dollars or more to the committee,” the response says.

The complaints pointed to incorrect or missing address information and a lack of employer listings.

“We had inaccurate information on my financial report — there were some inaccuracies,” Bates told Colorado Community Media on Oct. 7. She added: “They have since been amended. They were mistakes, and I'm sure other people had made mistakes.”

The instances of missing information weren't associated with large amounts of money in the context of campaign finance; the largest contribution in the listings in question was $500. Seven listings were highlighted as missing information.

Regarding the 10-day filing window, the response from the Secretary of State's Office also said that under Colorado law, a person is a “candidate” for a Colorado office if that person “has publicly announced an intention to seek election to public office … and thereafter has received a contribution or made an expenditure in support of the candidacy.”

That means a person isn't technically a candidate until their campaign receives or spends money, Bates said.

“I announced (candidacy) in May — I didn't file my paperwork until June,” Bates said. “But I never received a donation or spent any donations until August because our son was getting married, and I didn't intend to (campaign) until August.”

State filings show Bates took in no contributions and no expenditures from May 28 through July 28. The filings for that period are Bates' earliest finance filings this year. She filed her candidate affidavit — what she referenced as the paperwork — on June 14. The complaint says Bates announced her candidacy on May 10 at a school board meeting.

Regarding the passing out of campaign materials, Bates said she was at a district event and was able to pass out her campaign literature there.

“The district has always allowed school board members to pass out campaign literature at district events. I was not there in an official capacity; I was there as a community member,” Bates said, adding that she was a meeting of the Cherry Creek Parents' Council, which oversees parent-teacher community organizations, or PTCOs.

In the state office's initial response to the complaints, it's unclear whether the allegation about Bates passing out campaign materials applies to state election law.

The office's response said: “A 501(c)(3) organization is an organization that is exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of Title 26 of the United States Code. Allegations related to potential noncompliance with federal tax law by a tax-exempt organization can be filed with the Internal Revenue Service.”

The complaint document includes an online announcement from the Parents' Council, which says that under IRS regulations, the Parents' Council does not and cannot endorse candidates running for school board. But it's not clear from the complaint document whether Bates passing out material at a meeting would cause the Parents' Council to be in violation of IRS regulations. The Parents' Council announcement also said, in part: “We are not responsible for any campaign materials handed out at our meeting.”

As of Oct. 18, the complaints were listed as “open” on the secretary of state's website. The office’s response said the alleged violations may be curable, meaning they may be allowed to be fixed.

Bates said on Oct. 18 that she has sent necessary information back and has already moved to cure the issues.

“Just waiting for their responses on it, but everything’s amended and cured,” Bates said.

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