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Walker Stapleton withdraws ballot petition over signature 'fraud,' will seek ballot via assembly

Denver7 exposed questionable circulator
Posted at 11:55 AM, Apr 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-10 18:28:19-04

DENVER – Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton announced Tuesday that his campaign was tossing out its successful ballot petition drive over concerns involving a questionable Kennedy Enterprises signature gatherer first exposed by Denver7, and that he will try and get onto the Republican gubernatorial ballot through this weekend’s state assembly.

Later in the day, the judge ruled that Congressman Doug Lamborn will get to stay on the 5th Congressional District ballot.

Stapleton’s campaign hired the same Colorado Springs-based signature gathering firm, Kennedy Enterprises, that Lamborn’s campaign used, and had filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit regarding Lamborn's successful petition drive.

Stapleton’s announcement to withdraw his petition signatures came two hours after his attorney withdrew a motion to intervene in a case questioning the validity of Lamborn’s ballot petition drive over concerns the petition circulators were not Colorado residents. His attorney told the court it believed there was a chance Stapleton’s could face a similar lawsuit.

Stapleton sent a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who is the defendant in the lawsuit involving Lamborn, saying that Kennedy Enterprises employed a “trainee circulator” named Daniel Velasquez and allowed Velasquez to circulate petitions under the guise of being a different person.

“Kennedy Enterprises repeatedly lied to my campaign when we asked them about news reports alleging this conduct weeks ago,” Stapleton wrote in Tuesday’s letter to Williams. “Until last night, Dan Kennedy and those working for him insisted that no such individual had ever worked for Kennedy Enterprises. Worse than lying to my campaign, they lied to your office when your office specifically asked about these news reports.”

In asking Williams and his office to toss the petition campaign – despite the signatures being verified – Stapleton also asked that the office investigate Kennedy Enterprises and offered to assist.

“We’re going to be filing a suit and encourage anyone else harmed to [do so] as well,” Stapleton said at a Tuesday news conference. “And hopefully this will be Mr. Kennedy’s last day in business.”

Stapleton said at the news conference that there was “nothing wrong” with the petitions he submitted, saying Dan Kennedy had “been involved in misconduct, in illegalities” and that Kennedy needed to be “held accountable” for them. Stapleton said Kennedy “comported himself in an unethical manner.”

Denver7 Investigates first broke the story about the questionable nature of Velasquez. A secretly-recorded phone call captured Velasquez making questionable claims about the signature gathering operation.

"Most of my people can't even register to vote because they're all felons. You know, most of them," the man, who identified himself as "Daniel Velasquez," said in the call, which Denver7 Investigates reviewed. "That's just me being honest with you. If you want to work with me, you're going to get those [signature] numbers, you're going to work with a whole bunch of rowdy individuals. You know, a whole bunch of rowdy individuals from the hood."

Velasquez said in the call he was from Florida, but also said he was a Colorado resident and registered Republican. He also said he was collecting signatures for the Stapleton gubernatorial campaign in Pueblo. However, Colorado voter data didn’t show any Daniel Velasquez registered as a Republican in Colorado.

Furthermore, Velasquez told the man recording the conversation he wanted to work in a "lenient" workplace.

"You'll let me do almost whatever I want as long as I turn in, you know, papers," Velasquez told Olson. "Because as far as I'm concerned ... we're all just trying to make money out here."

Now that Stapleton has tossed his petition drive, he will have to garner 30 percent of the vote at this Saturday’s state Republican assembly in order to make the primary ballot for June’s contest.

He said that no matter his showing at the assembly, he felt like he could say his campaign “held our head high” in the race and in tossing the questionable signatures.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing to me is to look at my wife and my three young children to look at me and say dad did the right thing,” Stapleton said. “In good conscience I cannot be put on the ballot in this manner and I will not.”

Kennedy could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but he told Denver7 when we reported the first story:

“My firm has a policy of not communicating with the press since Kennedy Enterprises LLC is merely a vendor and not authorized to speak for any campaign; not to mention misquotes I experienced prior to adopting this policy. I prefer to provide a quality service and leave the politics to others.

“However, I am willing to answer your direct question of ‘if someone named Daniel ‘Danny’ (or Alejandro) Velasquez has ever worked directly for you and/or one of your subcontractors.’

“I cannot be certain if someone by that name has ever worked for us, I have been in this business for 26 years. But, to the best of my knowledge, and the subcontractors I have spoken to, no one by this name worked on the Walker Stapleton campaign. Also, to the best of my knowledge, the entire Walker Stapleton signature campaign has been performed lawfully.

All the best,

Dan Kennedy”

Stapleton's opponents have field day with announcement

Doug Robinson's campaign, whose campaign worker recorded the call with Velasquez, praised Stapleton for disavowing his petition signatures but said he was leery that no one in Stapleton's campaign knew about the alleged malfeasance.

“I applaud Walker for doing the right thing, and for withdrawing his petitions," Robinson said in a statement. “However, this does not change the fact that this fraud was perpetrated right under Walker’s nose. This fraud was so egregious that my team uncovered it as part of the due diligence of our own operation. It strains credulity to believe that no one on Walker’s team was aware of these abuses before last night."

Robinson praised Denver7 Investigates as well for its "work on behalf of the voters of Colorado, and for taking these allegations seriously when our team brought them to their attention."

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who is also running for governor as a Republican, slammed Stapleton in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“Once again Walker Stapleton has shown his true colors. He’s proven to Colorado voters that he can’t be trusted to play by the rules,” Coffman said. "The truth is, Walker tried to avoid addressing Republican delegates and got tripped up in the execution of his own political strategy.”

“A candidate shouldn’t be rewarded because he couldn’t buy his way onto the ballot. Walker is stuck with the consequences of his decisions and the Colorado State Party and the Secretary of State should not be in the business of picking winners and losers by manipulating the caucus and assembly process after the fact,” she continued. “We all knew the rules and presumably we all abided by them. If they allow Walker Stapleton to go through the Assembly now, they are violating their obligation to the delegates to have a fair and neutral process.”

The Colorado Democratic Party issued a statement after Stapleton’s statement scoffing at the Republican’s decision.

“This is an embarrassing belly flop into the heart of campaign season. Stapleton knows he doesn’t have the support of the Republican base, and was terrified to go through the state assembly. Now he has no choice,” Colorado Democratic Party spokesperson Eric Walker said in a statement. “Stapleton’s campaign is a reflection of the candidate, and today’s announcement underscores his inability to lawfully and competently manage the basics of ballot access, let alone the state of Colorado.”

Lamborn’s signatures still under scrutiny in court

While Stapleton withdrew Tuesday morning from the suit involving Lamborn, a hearing regarding the lawsuit was ongoing in Denver District Court Tuesday as Stapleton made his announcement he’d tossed his petition drive.

It was unclear before the end of the hearing what bearing Stapleton’s decision to withdraw his petition would have in the case.

Five Republicans filed suit against Secretary of State Wayne Williams last week, alleging that that people who gathered petition signatures for Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, did not meet Colorado residency standards and could not thus legally gather the signatures.

According to records obtained by Denver7, circulators for both campaigns all registered to vote on the same day in January. Many of them also share the same Colorado address. A Thornton townhome and a hotel came up repeatedly on registration documents. 

Williams and his office verified Lamborn’s petition, but the lawsuit argues that over half of the 1,269 signatures were gathered by people the plaintiffs argue are not residents. Lamborn needed 1,000 valid signatures to make the ballot.

Colorado state law states that anyone circulating a petition must be a resident of Colorado and the United States and be registered with the party of the candidate for whom they’re gathering signatures.

At issue in the case is who exactly is a Colorado resident. None of the circulators cited in the lawsuit have Colorado driver’s licenses, several are residents of Michigan and one is registered to vote in Texas.

Further, several of them are members of the National Association of Professional Petitioners and Coordinators and registered to vote in Colorado just days before starting to gather signatures, the lawsuit states. The suit says one of the circulators was never registered to vote.

One of the signature gatherers, Ryan Tipple, testified by phone from California. He was responsible for gathering 269 of Lamborn’s 1,269 signatures.

Upon questioning from the plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Francisco, Tipple said that he spends most of his time living and working in California, and said that while in Colorado to gather signatures in January, he didn’t change his vehicle registration or driver’s license.

Tipple said after questioning from an attorney for the secretary of state’s office that he was indeed registered to vote in Colorado with the Republican Party while he was circulating petitions in Colorado.

Another circulator, Joshua Whaley, said that he has a Michigan driver’s license, and that while circulating petitions in January, he lived at a house in Thornton with seven or eight other people – most of whom who were also circulators – for about $250 a month each.

Those points are expected to be a major factor in the judge’s decision of what constitutes a Colorado resident. In the state, a person with a valid address can register to vote online.

Court took a break shortly before noon Tuesday and was expected to be back in session at 1 p.m.

After lunch, Francisco questioned Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert about the ballot process. She said that none of the cards the office sends back to affirmed circulators bounced back in the mail.

She was also questioned about what it takes to become a Colorado resident. Could you become a Colorado resident in one day, she was asked. Staiert responded that was the case.

“You’re a resident the day you came here and intended to make this your home,” she said, adding that the affirmation the circulators signed, coupled with matching names to voter database, were enough to verify the petitions.

Francisco again laid out the argument that Colorado’s voter registration laws were objective rather than subjective, and said the circulators who worked on Lamborn’s campaign, like Tipple, had laid out only subjective reasons they wanted to become Colorado residents. Thus, he argued, the signatures should be deemed invalid because the gatherers broke the rules.

But Ryan Call, who represents Lamborn, said that the circulators had met all the requirements. And the attorney for Williams argued that similar lawsuits could become the norm in the future, which he said would be a “real problem for election administration in this state.”

The judge ruled that Lamborn will be allowed to stay on the ballot. He said five of the seven circulators in question certainly intended to stay in Colorado when they became residents, but that he had questions about two.

Tipple was among those two, but the judge said he felt that Tipple had proven he intended to stay in Colorado, and kept the signatures he gathered intact.

However, another man who had gathered 58 of Lamborn's signatures did not intend to stay in Colorado when he became a resident, the judge ruled. But even with those signatures possibly invalidated, Lamborn's petition still remains above the 1,000-signature threshold.

The Secretary of State's office was also absolved of neglect and of committing a wrongful act, the judge ruled.

Francisco and plaintiffs will be able to appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, though there is a three-day window for the plaintiffs to do so. A spokesperson for the plaintiffs said it was likely they would appeal.

This is a developing news story; stay with Denver7 for updates.