Colorado Newspaper Hyped Non-Existent Ethics Charge Against Recall-Targeted State Senator

The “ethics complaint” against Colorado State Sen. Angela Giron reported on by The Pueblo Chieftain and Colorado ABC affiliate KRDO was never accepted by the Colorado Secretary of State for review, as revealed in an open records request by a local government watchdog group.

Reacting to media coverage of the complaint -- which alleged that Giron's listing of her state email address on her campaign website constituted a violation of ethics rules -- Colorado Ethics Watch director Luis Toro told Media Matters in an August 6 interview that the allegation was “extremely thin” before predicting that it would be “almost certainly dismissed as frivolous.” Toro also questioned why the complaint did not appear on the Secretary of State website, noting that it is standard procedure for even a frivolous complaint to be posted and then referred for adjudication.

Giron is facing recall over her support of legislation to expand background checks on gun sales and limit firearm magazine capacity to 15 rounds.

According to emails obtained by CEW on August 15, an employee from the Secretary of State's Election Division responded to the ethics charge with instructions on how to file a campaign finance complaint. An internal email between Secretary of State employees indicated confusion over the complaint with one staffer emailing another, “Not sure if this is meant to be a campaign finance complaint under the $50 rule.” This is likely because the complaintaint's allegation centered on Giron's conduct as a candidate meaning it would be properly characterized as a campaign finance violation rather than an ethics complaint.   

[Colorado Ethics Watch, accessed 8/16/13, personal email address redacted]

The complaint was reported as the top local news story in the August 3 edition of the Chieftain and also appeared on KRDO's website. According to a review of news transcripts provided by TVEyes, the complaint was the subject of three KRDO news segments. KRDO and the Chieftain are news partners, and KRDO's August 2 nightly news broadcast noted, “Your NewsChannel 13's Joe Dominguez is tracking [the ethics charge] live from The Pueblo Chieftain newsroom.”

The local news story in the Chieftain provided a platform for the false allegation by Pueblo County Republican Party chairwoman Becky Mizel that the ethics charge meant “Angela Giron has chosen to use state resources and taxpayer money for her own political gain.” Mizel added that she was “disgusted” by Giron's actions. On August 7, the Chieftain acknowledged flaws in the ethics complaint, citing a Media Matters review that demonstrated that Giron's use of her state email address was routine, as 53 state lawmakers provide state contact information on their campaign websites.

CEW's records request also indicates that the complaint was sent not only to the Secretary of State but also to myriad Colorado news outlets:

[Colorado Ethics Watch, accessed 8/16/13, personal email address redacted]

The Chieftain's coverage of the ethics complaint followed a revelation that the paper's general manager, production director, and assistant publisher and vice president all signed petitions in support of recalling Giron, a fact that the paper did not initially disclose but later downplayed in an editorial. The paper also received attention in March when general manager Ray Stafford sent an email to Giron describing his role as a top executive with the Chieftain before criticizing Giron over her support for stronger gun laws.