La Plata County Treasurer Allison Aichele has 10 days to explain mistakes related to her 2014 campaign filings and to prove there was no intentional wrongdoing.
The Colorado Secretary of State's Office on Tuesday found grounds for further investigation into a complaint filed by her Republican opponent, Colton Black, alleging violations to campaign finance laws.
"She'll need to come up with some justification," said Melissa Polk with the secretary of state's elections division. "If she doesn't ... then we can look at forwarding this complaint to a hearings officer to look at potential penalties."
In June, it came to light that Aichele started this election cycle with a negative balance of more than $23,000 - money she later said she donated to her own campaign in 2014 but failed to report with the state, saying she "did not realize" she had to report personal contributions.
Aichele said she reported every contribution to her campaign other than her own money, as well as every expenditure. She said when she learned of the mistake she immediately sought to fix it.
"I didn't know anything about campaign finance law, and I had nobody there to help me," she said. "The day I found out I wanted to make this right."
On July 31, Black filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's Office alleging Aichele violated Colorado campaign finance law.
"This type of disregard for the relevant filing rules is a disservice not just to opposing candidates but, more importantly, to the voters who have a right to transparency and to know the origin of campaign funds in a timely manner," Black wrote in the complaint.
Under new state rules election officials enacted this summer, the Secretary of State's Office had 10 days to conduct an initial review to determine if Black's complaint warrants further investigation.
On Tuesday, the office ruled it does.
Under these new rules, the Secretary of State's Office has three options:
Decide a complaint does not violate campaign finance law and dismiss it.Decide a complaint can be fixed and allow the person fix it. The person, however, must prove there was no intentional wrongdoing.Decide more investigation is warranted and perhaps file a complaint with a hearings officer.Polk said the Secretary of State's Office is pursuing the second option, which gives Aichele 10 days to file her statement.
"Basically, we found she should have filed those reports in 2014 and she's done that now (in June), but she needs to provide information regarding why that happened," Polk said.
The Secretary of State's Office has a number of criteria that would warrant the office to rule Aichele's mistakes were not intentional. If she doesn't meet those criteria, it could lead to more investigation and possible penalties.
Aichele has filed several reports this election cycle that attempt to correct previous filing mistakes. She also has corrected reports filed this year, submitting nearly 10 amendments that tweak campaign contributions and expenditures.