Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters may soon find herself facing more than just possible felony charges for allegedly helping breach security protocols in her Elections Division, but also investigations into her possible acceptance of gifts beyond what state law allows, not to mention a second recall attempt.
To date, two complaints have been filed on that score, but more could be pending.
Scott Beilfuss, co-chairman of the Mesa County Democratic Party, filed a formal complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office asking it to look into a possible violation of the state’s gift ban.
“Tina Peters flew up to Mr. Pillow’s cybersymposium on a private plane provided to her and is staying as a guest of the Pillow foundation in clear violation of accepting gift laws,” Beilfuss wrote in his complaint, filed on Aug. 16.
Since then, My Pillow guy and voter-fraud conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell said several times on his online program, Lindell TV, that he did, indeed, fly Peters to that South Dakota event, and later to Texas.
He’s also repeatedly said he’s keeping her hidden in an undisclosed location, indicating he may also be paying for her lodging and meals for at least the past three weeks.
The state limits gifts to government employees, including elected officials, to no more than $65 a year “including, but not limited to, gifts, loans, rewards, promises or negotiations of future employment, favors or services, honoraria, travel, entertainment or special discounts,” according to a Colorado Independent Ethics Commission opinion on the issue.
Like the Secretary of State’s Office, that five-member commission also has authority in the matter, but punishment from either is limited to fees and fines.
Meanwhile, Grand Junction resident Anne Landman has filed a similar complaint with the commission.
“It appears that Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters has accepted, and is continuing to accept thousands of dollars worth of services, security and favors from Mr. Lindell in violation of the Colorado Constitution,” Landman wrote in her complaint, which was filed Friday.
Both the Secretary of State’s Office and the ethics commission review complaints to determine if they are frivolous before they decide to launch their own investigations.
Peters already is being investigated by the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office and the FBI over possible felonies surrounding the security breach.
A similar ethics complaint was filed against now U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper over two incidents that occurred when he was the state’s governor.
A year ago, the commission fined Hickenlooper $2,000 for taking a free flight to Connecticut on a private jet owned by a top political donor to a 2018 event to help the Navy launch the USS Colorado nuclear submarine, and another $550 fine for accepting a limousine ride that same year while attending an economic development conference in Turin, Italy.
Dino Ioannides, executive director of the commission, said the panel’s investigations are complaint-based, meaning one would have to be filed for it to look into any matter.
“Due to constitutional confidentiality requirements, I can neither confirm not deny that a complaint has been filed or that an investigation is underway,” Ioannides said.
Beilfuss said he, too, expects to file such a complaint with the ethics commission against Peters.
“Lindell acknowledged that he picked her up recently, so, yes, it’s exactly as the Hickenlooper complaint,” Beilfuss said. “This isn’t the biggest concern about Tina, but another one. We are hearing that there will be a legal case filed against Peters any day regarding campaign violations and possible neglect of duty. We’re also hearing of another recall starting soon.”
The group Rural Colorado United, which formed last year in opposition to U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, said it is talking with some Mesa County residents about a possible second recall attempt.
Peters was the subject of an attempted recall last year, but proponents for that effort failed to gather enough signatures to force a recall vote.
The clerk’s campaign finance account with the Secretary of State’s Office has been inactive since November 2019, and hasn’t reported any contributions or expenses since then.
Regardless, Peters’ campaign website, tinapetersforcolorado.com, has been updated with items she’s done in her office that occurred as recently as this year, and is actively soliciting donations for her re-election bid. If she does run, she’ll face Bobbie Gross in the Republican Party primary next June. Peters narrowly defeated Gross in the 2018 GOP primary by 1,344 votes.
Coincidentally, the group that filed the complaint against Hickenlooper, the Denver-based Public Trust Institute, was, at the time, headed by Suzanne Staiert, who worked as deputy secretary of state under Scott Gessler and Wayne Williams.
Now known under her maiden name of Taheri, she and her law firm, The Maven Group, were recently retained by the Mesa County Attorney’s Office to provide legal advice in relation to the 2021 coordinated election, which her former boss now is overseeing.
Taheri is the outside attorney that newly hired County Attorney Todd Starr mentioned in a recent public hearing that he had hired when the Mesa County Board of Commissioners decided to name Williams to oversee the county’s Elections Division after Secretary of State Jena Griswold temporarily prohibited Peters from conducting them. Griswold named Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner to that post, setting up another legal dispute between the county and state.
Starr’s office has already told Peters that it can’t represent her in any legal entanglement, but wasn’t clear on whether the county would be responsible for paying for her legal representation in this matter.
“The county has previously informed Ms. Peters that the County Attorney’s Office has a conflict of interest and it will be necessary for her to secure independent counsel,” Assistant County Attorney John Rhodes told The Daily Sentinel in an email. “Typically, should legal matters relate to the operations of the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, county funds are made available for legal representation on those issues.”
There are no records yet of Peters seeking county funds to pay for an attorney, which is expected to be Gessler. Rhodes said that if Peters’ attorneys tried to bill the county, that “could lead to a potential dispute.”
Another group that Taheri represents, United for Colorado, was fined $40,000 by a state administrative law judge earlier this month for not following campaign finance laws in releasing the identity of its donors, a ruling the group plans to appeal.
That group spent $4 million in support or opposition of three ballot initiatives in the 2020 general election. The group also has donated money to various candidates, including Taheri in her failed bid for the Colorado Senate last year.
Taheri, along with Michael Fields, head of the right-leaning advocacy group Colorado Rising Action, also is the designated representative of two proposed constitutional amendments.
One, which has qualified to appear on this fall’s ballot, aims to reduce property tax rates. The other, which is awaiting verification of petition signatures, would give the Colorado Legislature sole authority to appropriate state revenue that is not generated from taxes.