Facts Undercut Walker Stapleton (Again)

Walker Stapleton.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

As the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reports, Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s favorite axe to grind, the estimated rate of return for the state’s Public Employee Retirement Association fund, has once again failed to fulfill his dire predictions. Last week, Stapleton lost big at the Colorado Supreme Court, when the court refused to hear his appeal to gain access to confidential PERA data. Stapleton’s campaign to “reform” PERA, while complaining loudly about the fund’s supposed weakness, has been his most visible policy as state treasurer.

Well, as Ashby reported yesterday…it’s a bunch of BS.

A state audit of the Colorado Public Employee Retirement Association, which holds and manages pensions for just about every state and local government employee in Colorado, has “no significant deficiencies or material weaknesses.”

…Along with the audit, PERA’s actuaries also reported last week that the pension fund will become 100 percent funded in 34 years, Smith said. While the ideal solvency level is aimed at 30 years, the pension system doesn’t have far to go to get to where it needs to be fully funded, he said.

Smith credited much of the pension’s good health on reforms made by the Colorado Legislature in 2010. That new law, SB1, reduced retirement benefits for new government hires, reduced automatic cost-of-living increases for existing retirees and increased contributions to the fund by employers over seven years…

Though it now has a projected 7.5 percent return rate, which the pension lowered from 8 percent, over the past 30 years its investments have returned more than that — 9.5 percent on average, he said. [Pols emphasis]

The fact is, Treasurer Stapleton’s doom and gloom assessments of PERA’s outlook, segueing into the usual political arguments for “doing something” about the “lavish benefits” PERA pensioners receive, have totally failed the test of basic accuracy. Even after the 2010 SB-1 reforms significantly increased employee obligations, not to mention the lowering of the projected rate of return for PERA investment to 7.5% last year, Stapleton has continued to find a ready (if ignorant) audience for his message on PERA with partisan Republicans.

As we discussed last week, Stapleton has missed a large number of PERA Board meetings, going back years–all the while pursuing his now-failed lawsuit, and arguing that PERA’s “irresponsibility” was exposing Colorado taxpayers to massive risk. The full facts of Stapleton’s campaign against PERA make the whole business just laughable. Even if you’re with Stapleton on “reforming” PERA, he’s done a terrible job making the case. For us, having missed so many PERA board meetings while grandstanding on the issue for years destroys Stapleton’s credibility. For everyone else, there’s the increasingly undeniable fact that Stapleton is just plain wrong about PERA.

“Without being confrontational with the treasurer, we like to talk about the numbers, [Pols emphasis] and are focused on the numbers, and the numbers indicate to us that we don’t have a current crisis. Every indication is we’ll be able to meet our obligations and eventually we’ll return to fully funded status.”

Back in 2010, when Stapleton campaigned for treasurer warning of a coming “hyperinflationary environment” and calling for the state to buy gold Glenn Beck style to ward off disaster, we marveled a little that this silly man was actually poised to defeat a competent and trustworthy administrator like then-Treasurer Cary Kennedy. But it was a wave year, and things happen down the ticket in such elections that have nothing to do with the greater good.

There was no “hyperinflationary environment” after 2010, but Stapleton has proven no less silly.

Big Line Updates; Now, with Percentages!

We have occasionally changed the appearance of The Big Line from representing fractional odds to presenting percentages. It's a matter of preference, of course, but as Election Day nears and Colorado Pols attracts more and new readers, we figured now would be a good time to switch again to percentages.

Here's what we're currently thinking as to the main movers in the top races in Colorado. For the first time this cycle, we've also added Lines for State Senate and State House majorities, respectively.

U.S. SENATE
Mark Udall (65%)
Cory Gardner (35%)

Gardner has been throwing multiple messages at the wall of late, which is typically the sign of a campaign that doesn't feel confident in the direction it is headed. There's a saying in football that if you are rotating more than one quarterback into the game, then you don't really have a quarterback. If you're a Gardner fan, this is a very difficult question to answer: What is his path to victory here?

 

GOVERNOR
John Hickenlooper (68%)
Bob Beauprez (32%)

While there has never been a point in this race where it really felt like Gov. Hickenlooper was in trouble, Hick has made enough errors that it has provided Beauprez with an opportunity. Still, Beauprez can't win just by running a decent race; if Hick stops his stumble, there's not enough room for Beauprez to squeeze past in November.
 

ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE TREASURER, SECRETARY OF STATE
With so much money going into races for the U.S. Senate and CD-6, there will be little oxygen left in the room for candidates in the other statewide races after Governor. It's difficult to tell at this stage whether any of the candidates will be able to do enough to make their own luck.
 

CD-6 (Aurora-ish)
Andrew Romanoff (54%)
Mike Coffman (46%)

We wrote earlier about our belief that Countdown Coffman is underway following incumbent Rep. Coffman's boorish behavior in last week's debates. We've been hearing consistent buzz that Romanoff is now rising steadily while Coffman seeks the momentum he needs to prevent a complete collapse.
 

STATE SENATE MAJORITY
DEMOCRATS (55%)
REPUBLICANS (45%)

We usually wait until this point in the cycle to attempt handicapping state legislative outcomes, but our analysis is similar to what we anticipated in the aftermath of the June Primary. Tea Party victories in two key Senate districts (SD-19 and SD-22) make winning the majority an uphill battle for Republicans.


STATE HOUSE MAJORITY
DEMOCRATS (75%)
REPUBLICANS (25%)

The ballot wasn't even completely settled until recently, but the direction of this battle has been clear for some time. Republicans have had difficulty even finding candidates for 2014; the GOP will be lucky not to lose a seat or two at this point.


Check out the full Big Line 2014 or comment below.

Stapleton cites possibility of judicial bias in PERA lawsuit decision

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton took to the airwaves of KLZ 560-AM yesterday to raise the specter of judicial bias in Monday’s Colorado Supreme Court decision not to release records on the top PERA recipients.

Speaking on KLZ’s nooner show, Freedom560, hosted by Ken Clark, Stapleton said:

“It’s worth pointing out, call me a cynic, that every single member of the judicial branch is also a member of PERA. And that means that every single judge that heard my case had a vested economic interest in doing nothing about the problem, in maintaining the status quo, in feeling that their pension would be somehow released to me and not wanting that to be the case. I mean it’s mind-boggling to think our judicial branch is aiding and abetting a lack of transparency. It really is.”

Commenting via Twitter on Stapleton’s remark, Luis Toro, Director of Colorado Ethics Watch, wrote dryly: “Shocking admission that the point of his suit is to undermine PERA. If his suit was to strengthen PERA, the ‘vested interest’ would be to support him, wouldn’t it?”

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Walker Stapleton: Treasurer in Absentia

Walker Stapleton.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton: Working for you. Sometimes.

It is only Wednesday, but it has not been a good week for State Treasurer Walker Stapleton. And it is only going to get worse from here.

Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court dealt Stapleton a blow by refusing to hear his legal attempt aimed at opening up the books of PERA, the Public Employees Retirement Association. As the very-thorough blog Pensions 360 explains:

Back in 2011, Stapleton filed a lawsuit seeking the release of retirement benefit data for Colorado’s highest-earning pensioners. But the state’s pension fund, the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), said the information was confidential and refused to release it.

Since then, two lower courts have sided with the pension system on the issue. Stapleton appealed the rulings all the way to the state Supreme Court—but the Court announced today that they wouldn’t be hearing his case.

Stapleton has been trying to gain access to information about the top 20 percent of PERA's beneficiaries and their annual retirement benefit. Stapleton's lawsuit, ostensibly to "learn" more information that could give him insight into what he calls "financial DNA" about PERA investments, has been widely dimissed as a political ploy. The PERA board refused Stapleton's request for the data back in 2011, citing privacy concerns and noting that accessing the data was not a function of his role as a trustee of the retirement account. 

Today, however, comes word that Stapleton doesn't typically bother to attend PERA Board meetings anyway. According to information obtained via Colorado's Open Records laws, here's Stapleton's attendance record at PERA Board meetings:

2012: There were 10 PERA meetings. Stapleton attended 3, but left early at 2 of those.

2013: There were 7 PERA meetings. Stapleton attended 2, but left both early.

*NOTE: From the September 20, 2013 PERA Board Meeting Minutes: “Mr. Stapleton requested the removal of his absence from the June 25, 2013 Board meeting minutes, as his designee Brett Johnson was present.”

2014 (through June): There have been 5 PERA Board meetings. Minutes are not available for the June 24 meeting. Of the other 4 meetings, he has fully attended 1 and left early at another 2 meetings.

Stapleton's dismal attendance record at PERA Board meetings makes it difficult for him to argue that his lawsuit — or anything else related to PERA — has been done with the best intentions of Colorado retirees in mind. Stapleton hasn't proven to be particularly savvy when it comes to investment decisions around PERA (or investment advice in general), and his lax attendance at Board meetings further calls into question his capability and interest in managing the state's money.

But perhaps more importantly for Stapleton, this information is a serious mark on his resume as he looks to be re-elected in 2014 and hints at a possible run for Governor in 2018. You might recall that Stapleton was widely criticized for moonlighting on the job; Stapleton has continued to work for the real estate firm SonomaWest Holdings while he has served as State Treasurer, and his poor attendance record at PERA Board meetings again brings up the question of just how committed he is to the job in which in was elected to serve.

If Stapleton can't find time to attend meetings directly related to his elected position…what is he doing instead? And why are taxpayers footing the bill?

 

Markey Slams Stapleton’s PERA Obsession on West Slope Tour

Betsy Markey.

Betsy Markey.

While all eyes in Denver have been on the big Frackapalooza compromise reached this week, former Rep. Betsy Markey, now the Democratic candidate for state treasurer, has been touring the Western Slope–and previewing her message against GOP incumbent Walker Stapleton with the local press. As the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reported yesterday, and the Durango Herald's Chuck Slothower similarly reports today:

Markey said the only issue Stapleton focuses on is the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association, and then only to criticize it, even though it’s working just fine.

“This is a big, dynamic state,” Markey told the editorial board of The Daily Sentinel. “We turn big ideas into reality, and the treasurer’s office should be no different. We can’t just focus on beating down teachers and state workers and their pension program.”

Since taking the job in 2010, Stapleton has been highly critical of the board that oversees PERA, saying its expectation of high returns is unrealistic even though it’s realized 15 percent and 12 percent returns on those investment the past two years, respectively. State treasurers serve on that board as part of their jobs.

Markey, who represented the Eastern Plains in Congress for one term in 2008-09, said problems with PERA’s long-term sustainability were largely addressed by the Legislature years ago, which helped turn the state’s largest public pension system into one of the nation’s best.

Walker Stapleton.

Walker Stapleton.

Markey is referring to 2010's Senate Bill 1, which significantly increased employee contributions to the Public Employees' Retirement Association, as well as reducing the rate of annual increase for benefits. Representing a major concession by employees in the interest of preserving PERA's solvency, Senate Bill 1 was considered by all parties at the time to be a long-term fix for the nation's 21st largest public pension system.

But it's never been enough for Treasurer Stapleton, who took office the January after Senate Bill 1 was signed into law. Stapleton has continuously harped on the need for the fund to base its projections on a lower rate of return in order to "keep taxpayers off the hook" for PERA pensions. He has continued to demand this even as the fund has blown past its projected rates of return in the last couple of years as the economy has recovered. While a 15% rate of return is not something Colorado's public employee retirees can count on, PERA managers feel comfortable with the rate of return they project for the long term. Last November, PERA lowered its expected rate of return by .5%, but that hasn't stopped Stapleton from continuing to make PERA a campaign issue.

Our shorter answer to this technical debate over PERA's solvency is that we don't have much confidence in Walker Stapleton's opinion on fiscal matters, you know, at all. Try as we might, we just can't get past the fact that this is the same guy who warned of a coming "hyperinflationary environment" in 2010 based on all the supposed fiscal evils being committed by the Obama administration in Washington–actually going as far as to suggest the state should buy gold Glenn Beck-style to stave off this coming disaster.

We've never heard Stapleton's explanation for why this "hyperinflationary environment" never happened. We'd like to, and we hope to sometime between now and November. We get that 2010 was a heady time in Republican politics, and it was necessary to say all kinds of crazy things to win their support–but still. You'll have to forgive us if we can't take Stapleton's word on PERA's rate of return over their actual performance.

Sad Walker Stapleton Wishes “State Treasurer” Title Made Him Financial Expert

Walker Stapleton hyper-inflation

Walker Stapleton prefers not to talk about his 2010 suggestion that Colorado invest more heavily in gold.

Do you have any idea what kind of requirements you must meet in order to become Colorado's State Treasurer?

Not much, actually. You must be at least 25 years of age; a Colorado resident for a minimum of 2 years; and a United States Citizen. That's it — that's all there is in the Colorado State Statutes. You don't need to have any sort of special training in finance. You don't even need to have a college degree in, well, anything. Primarily, you just need to have been alive for awhile and in Colorado recently.

Why do we bring this up? Because State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has been trying to get appointed to something called The Colorado Retirement Security Task Force, which is being set up by the legislature regarding…yes, retirement savings (bill sponsors Sen. Pat Steadman and Rep. John Bucker outlined their legislation in a recent Denver Post Op-Ed). Stapleton was apparently angry that he did not receive an invitation to the task force, and he and his supporters argued (and whined) that it was inconceivable someone could form a financial task force in Colorado and not include the expertise of the State Treasurer.

This was apparently a big deal for Stapleton supporters, with right-wing blogs devoting multiple posts to the topic this week. In one post this week from the blog Colorado Peak Politics, the author makes the case for including Stapleton on the Task Force while at the same time complaining that the whole idea is stupid anyway — basically repeating what teenagers across Colorado are saying this time of year when they don't get invited to Prom. Here's the "why Stapleton" argument:

Treasurer Walker Stapleton is the only statewide official who sits on the board of the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), and his expertise would be invaluable to the task force.  So why block him from participating?

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How About Those Bush Family Ties, Walker Stapleton?

Jeb Bush, Walker Stapleton.

Jeb Bush, Walker Stapleton.

The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels reported yesterday, Treasurer Walker Stapleton is getting some family help from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at a fundraiser next month.

Oh wait, you didn't actually know Walker Stapleton is a member of the illustrious Bush family, did you? It's not a secret of course, but judging from cousin Jeb's favorability ratings in yesterday's Quinnipiac University poll of Colorado voters, it may not be something Stapleton wants to lead with:

Jeb Bush, who is coming to Colorado next month for a fundraiser for state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, has some work to do when it comes to raising his appeal in the Centennial State.

A new poll released today by Quinnipiac University shows Bush with the most lopsided favorability ratings of all the potential 2016 presidential candidates. Only 29 percent of Coloradans have a favorable opinion of him, while 40 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Another 30 percent hadn’t heard enough about him to form an opinion.

Bush said Wednesday he is thinking of running for president, his strongest statement yet about the 2016 contest.

Those numbers don't bode well for a third Bush as President of the United States, folks.

Just so everybody's clear, Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton's first name Walker is also George Walker Bush's middle name, and one of George Herbert Walker Bush's middle names, and if you didn't already know this, George W. Bush (and Jeb, naturally) is Walker Stapleton's second cousin. Stapleton's 2006 wedding was held at the Bush family's Kennebunkport, Maine peninsular compound named Walker's Point. The Washington Post reported that Stapleton was working out with George W. Bush when Bush got the call in 2000 that the election in Florida was going haywire. We were obliged to note all of this again for the record back in 2010 when Stapleton rather ludicrously said on the campaign trail:

I’m proud to say I’ve never been part of inside politics.

After being in office four years, not to mention cousin Jeb coming to town, hopefully he's dispensed with that.

With all of this in mind, here's our question: if Stapleton's Bush family lineage was more broadly known, how would Colorado voters respond to that in this year's elections? Might cousin Jeb's low approval ratings be any guide?

Audio: Did Suthers Just Dis Walker Stapleton?

An unintentionally hilarious quote from outgoing Attorney General John Suthers, interviewed this week on Colorado Public Radio:

JOHN SUTHERS: You know, if you can't handle the heat, and your sole objective in life is to cater to your political base, run for Treasurer, [Pols emphasis] run for something else but don't run for Attorney General.

Hey, wait a minute! We know somebody who resembles that remark.

stapletonban

Present treasurers excluded, right? Or not? Suthers is pretty careful about his choice of words, folks…

Statewide Candidates Q4 Fundraising: Winners and Losers

El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams.

Who has two thumbs and can’t fundraise for shit? This guy (Wayne Williams).

As we do after every fundraising quarter (see Q3 here), we've tallied up the money raised and spent by the various candidates running for statewide office in Colorado. There were some very clear winners for the period ending on December 31, 2013, and some equally clear losers.

Media reports often show how much money candidates have raised in a certain period, without taking into account how much money they have spent; Republican Tom Tancredo, for example, raised a decent $191k in Q4, but he spent $203k. That's a good quarter…if you are on his payroll.

Take a look after the jump to see how the numbers break down:

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Pat Quinn Comes to His Senses, Withdraws from Treasurer Race

Pat Quinn, State Treasurer

This sign marks the end of your ability to be recognized.

Democrat Pat Quinn announced today that he was ending his race for State Treasurer after five months of raising little money, spending most of it, and touring the state in an effort to find out just how completely unknown he was outside of Broomfield (press release after the jump).

The term-limited Mayor of Broomfield, Quinn jumped into the race for State Treasurer in June, oddly entering the contest on the same day that Democrat Betsy Markey was making her announcement for the same campaign. Quinn was (and remains) a virtual unknown even in Democratic party circles, so his announcement was unexpected for many reasons.

Quinn had a very weak Q3 fundraising period, reporting just $33k raised and $7k in the bank (or about $72,000 less than Democratic Treasurer candidate Betsy Markey), and when the reports came out we noted that it was time for Quinn to start thinking about where this was really headed.

But Quinn's campaign will be missed for one thing: It was the only campaign to go public with statewide polling numbers, giving us a glimpse into the potential popularity of a variety of elected officials. In fact, Quinn may be the only candidate in the history of Colorado politics (maybe even national) to intentionally release to the press results of a poll showing that 91% of Coloradans had never heard of a Pat Quinn.

So long, Quinn. It's been…brief.

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Statewide Candidates Q3 Fundraising: Winners and Losers

Cynthia Coffman

Cynthia Coffman (R) was one of several candidates for whom Q3 was their first full fundraising period.

For many statewide candidates in Colorado, the Q3 fundraising period was their first full quarter to be shaking out the loose change from supporters and other well-wishers.

The Q3 reports also give us our first chance to take a good look at most of the entire field of candidates, though a couple will keep us waiting another few months (Mike Kopp and Wayne Williams did not file their campaign committee paperwork until after the Q3 deadline).

So who did well, and who laid a big ugly egg? Take a look after the jump to find out.

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Walker Stapleton Raises $325k

Republican Treasurer Walker Stapleton reported an impressive fundraising total for Q3, bringing in $325,185 for the three months ending in September.

Stapleton has been fairly quiet since first getting elected in 2010, and Democrats Betsy Markey and Pat Quinn have set their sights on unseating the incumbent. Stapleton has done very little fundraising since 2010, but he made up for that in a big way in Q3 — collected three times as much money as Markey.

Interesting Results (and Strategy) Revealed in New Statewide Poll

Democrat Pat Quinn, who surprised political observers by jumping into the State Treasurer race earlier this month (on the same day that Democrat Betsy Markey announced her candidacy) took another unusual step today. This morning Quinn released the full results of a statewide poll that, spin from the campaign aside, really aren't all that favorable to the little-known Broomfield Mayor.

Betsy Markey

Not Pat Quinn

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton

Crap

The strategy here is obviously to try to get potential supporters and donors to believe that Quinn is truly a viable candidate, though the results of the poll really don't work out that way. As the polling memo explains (Anzalone/Liszt/Grove did the survey), however, things look good for Markey and not as good for incumbent Republican Walker Stapleton:

Walker Stapleton is unknown and ill-defined. Stapleton enters the race with no incumbency advantage – only 22% of voters know who he is (11% favorable / 11% unfavorable), including only 23% of Republicans who can rate him. Independent voters are among the least familiar, only 16% can rate him.

Once voters learn very basic information about him (his partisanship and his job title), more voters are able  to  rate  the  job  he’s  doing  – 36%  approve  of  the  job  he’s  doing,  though  52%  are  still  not able  to  rate   him.

The memo tries to make the case that Quinn might be better for Democrats than Markey because of the latter's "high negatives," but the numbers aren't really that bad for her.

The numbers mean little for Quinn no matter the spin, because he has to be able to beat Markey in a primary first — and this poll doesn't address that issue.

Let's break down some of the more interesting numbers: 

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