La Plata County Treasurer Allison Aichele's negative campaign balance of more than $23,000 was the result of a filing error she made on money she used to self-fund her last campaign in 2014 that has since been fixed, she said Wednesday.
On June 5, the state's campaign finance report system, TRACER, which tracks candidates' contributions and expenditures, showed that Aichele started this election cycle with a negative balance of more than $23,000.
Aichele said Wednesday this negative balance was money she used out of her own pocket to self-fund her last campaign in 2014. At the time, however, she forgot to file these expenditures with the state, she said.
"I reported all my contributions from (private donors)," she said. "Missing was reporting my own personal contributions. That's the step I missed."
A review of Aichele's campaign finances shows that as of July 24, 2014, she had a positive balance of about $6,500 on hand for her race for treasurer.
In October 2014, however, she started to accumulate a negative balance.
By the end of her campaign, Aichele reported she had raised $21,247, mostly through private donations, and spent a total of $45,088, leaving $23,841 spent that was unaccounted for - money she says came from her own pocket.
In all, Aichele estimated she spent around $25,000 of her own money to beat challenger Bobby Lieb.
The negative balance carried with Aichele for the next four years, as evidenced by the first financial filing of this election cycle on June 5.
Aichele said Tuesday that she tried to fix the issue in 2016, but was given faulty information from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office.
She said the issue was fixed in the past few days.
An amended financial filing on June 13 shows Aichele now reports she has contributed $22,425 to her own campaign, leaving her with a negative balance of $881. She says this remaining negative balance, too, will be worked out in the next few days.
Aichele provided personal financial statements to The Durango Herald that show money she spent on her campaign.
Steve Bouey, campaign finance program manager for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, said there is nothing in campaign finance law that prohibits a candidate from accruing a negative balance.
Bouey could not comment directly on Aichele's financial filings, but he said it is common for candidates to use their own money with the expectation they'll be able to pay themselves back later in the campaign or end up taking the loss.
Per Colorado law, the Secretary of State's Office does not conduct proactive cross-examinations, audits or reviews of a candidate's campaign filings.
"The law is silent on how candidates report," Bouey said. "And it's up to the candidates how they want to do it."
The only avenue for investigations into candidate financial disclosures in the past has been through citizens or news media filing complaints if they suspect something amiss.
This process is a result of the Colorado Campaign Finance Initiative voters passed in 2002. Initiative 27, as it was known, limited the amounts and types of political contributions that could be made and received. It changed regulations for candidates, political parties and political committees.
"We're dealing with a system we've said all along is an imperfect system," Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office said.
But even this system, just recently, faces an uncertain future.
On Tuesday, a federal judge threw out Colorado's voter-approved system for enforcing campaign finance violations, calling it unconstitutional.
"We have to take the candidates at their word," Bouey said. "If a member of the public ... finds a discrepancy or other outside information that doesn't make sense, that was the avenue, to file a complaint.
"But that process has been tossed into question with that ruling."
Aichele will face challenger Tim Walsworth in the primary election June 26. The Democratic winner will go against Republican candidate Colton Black, who is uncontested.