Embattled Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters will have 30 days to respond to a second ethics complaint filed with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, which on Tuesday determined the complaint to be “non-frivolous.”
Peters is already under local, state and federal investigations for alleged criminal misconduct regarding election security breaches in Mesa County. Officials announced Jan. 13 that a grand jury will also investigate allegations that Peters tampered with Mesa County election equipment.
To help with her legal woes, Peters for the past several months has been soliciting donations at various rallies and on her website, standwithtina.org. The new ethics complaint, filed by Grand Junction resident and political blogger Anne Landman, includes a video link of Peters asking for donations at an event held in September at Appleton Christian Church in Grand Junction after Peters’ return to the city after hiding for several weeks from state authorities.
Landman alleges in the complaint that Peters has been illegally accepting donations as an elected official. The complaint says Peters is violating Colorado Constitution rules regarding conduct of public officials.
Peters’ website asking for money describes Peters as “the courageous County Clerk of Mesa County, Colorado, in charge of the county elections,” which makes it clear she is soliciting funds in her capacity as an elected official – as opposed to as a private individual, Landman said.
While the IEC allows officials to solicit donations to help cover costs associated with criminal charges (Peters has yet to be charged), it also requires that the names of donors and the amount of money collected be reported to the state – which Peters has not done.
“The whole point of the Fair Campaign Practices Act is transparency – which I thought Tina was all for,” said former Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner, who’s currently the Mesa County treasurer and public trustee. “I have always taken the filing requirements for my candidacy seriously. If the secretary of state doesn’t follow up, then I think we will see other candidates believe that they don’t have to heed the laws and regulations either.”
In September, Colorado Politics reported that Peters’ legal defense fund could violate Colorado’s ethics rules, according to former IEC executive director and Denver attorney Jane Feldman who said: “The donations must be publicly disclosed, and must be administered by someone not directly affiliated with the clerk.”
“In addition, no donations may be accepted if the donor is a lobbyist,” Feldman told Colorado Politics. “The solicitation on her website contain none of those conditions, and therefore may cause violations of the gift ban.”
Feldman was IEC executive director in 2013 when the commission issued a response to then-Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s request for IEC guidance about how he could legally set up a criminal defense fund for an issue he was facing. Gessler is currently Peters’ attorney.
“Scott Gessler himself had a complaint against him for expenditures deemed unethical,” Landman said. “He asked IEC for guidance. He should know. He should be advising her. He was in the same position as Tina.”
Landman filed her first ethics complaint against Peters in September. That complaint alleged Peters improperly accepted financial compensation or gifts in excess of what’s allowed under the Colorado Constitution.
Conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow and a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, reportedly flew Peters to South Dakota for a “cyber symposium” and paid for hotels and meals during the weeks that Peters was in hiding. Lindell has spoken about his financial assistance to Peters, on a YouTube video and to The Washington Post.
The IEC and Peters will meet in February about the ethics complaint filed in September.
Peters has asked counsel to stay proceedings before the commission, said IEC Executive Director Dino Ioannides.
Peters has 30 days to respond to the new complaint, he said.
“After a response, or nonresponse, the commission will instruct me whether to commence an investigation,” followed by a report and then a hearing, where both parties present their case before the commission, he said.
Peters did not respond for comment in time for this story.