Campaign Integrity Watchdog once again defeats frivolous and groundless arguments by self-described “super-lawyer” Mario Nicolais (who’s now 0 for 5 going up against CIW) in winning judgment against lawbreaking lawmaker Rep. Dan Thurlow (“R” HD-55, Grand Junction). Thurlow’s candidate committee (Dan Thurlow / 55) was found guilty of six (6) counts of violating Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) and also ordered to return four (4) illegally-received contributions.
Nicolais, after repeatedly interposing delays in the proceedings on behalf of his client with several last-minute filings, saw each of his “Hail Mary” legal arguments (none of which actually addressed the violations alleged in the Complaints) utterly rejected by the Court in a ruling released and posted earlier on Monday.
At the 10 June 2015 hearing, which lasted the entire day (highly unusual for campaign finance cases), Nicolais spent much of the time introducing arguments, exhibits and witnesses that had little to do with the allegations (relatively simple reporting violations) raised in the underlying complaints. Rep. Thurlow was visibly annoyed at having to spend the entire day in court, and repeatedly characterized his committee’s violations as “inconsequential” – while admitting that he hadn’t even bothered to review any of his committee’s filings, despite his sworn candidate affidavit pledging to understand and comply with the state’s statutory campaign finance reporting requirements.
Nicolais argued, incredibly, that the Thurlow committee was “deprived” of “procedural due process” because the Secretary of State did not coddle the candidate with special notice of his violations. The Court rightly rejected this spurious claim in noting that CIW’s Complaint followed procedures for prosecuting campaign finance violations outlined under the Colorado Constitution and state law.
“Super-lawyer” Nicolais also argued that, since the Thurlow committee had at least filed something, the committee was in “substantial compliance” with the law. The Court also rejected this risible claim.
As Campaign Integrity Watchdog Director (and pro se prosecutor at trial) Matt Arnold pointed out, the “substantial compliance” argument was laughable – analogous to a driver caught speeding arguing that, because he didn’t violate other elements of the traffic code (no broken taillights, used turn signals, didn’t run over any pedestrians and wasn’t under the influence, etc) he was “substantially compliant” with the traffic code as a whole and should thus have the speeding charges dismissed.
Such an argument would be laughed out of court – and received a similar fate in this case.
Campaign Integrity Watchdog Director Matt Arnold concluded, “Justice in this case, although delayed – the case was originally scheduled to be heard in April, then May – has finally been served. State Representative Thurlow has been held accountable to the law, despite his protestations of ignorance and sneering characterization of his violations as ‘inconsequential.’”
“We should expect our elected officials to know, understand, and obey the laws they foist upon the rest of Colorado,” Mr. Arnold continued. “The law must apply equally to all… accountability is key to a representative government.”
The Court did exercise leniency in imposing penalties; the Thurlow campaign committee was only fined an amount equal to the sum total of the illegal contributions received ($1,080) rather than the full amount which could have applied per law ($50/day, which would easily have exceeded $20,000 in total). The Thurlow committee was also ordered to return $1,000 in illegally-received contributions. They have 14 days to comply with the Court Order from the date of the ruling (17 June 2015).
Campaign Integrity Watchdog is a non-partisan organization who has taken both sitting legislators and candidates to task on both sides of the aisle. Last year, CIW won a nearly $10,000 judgment against an organization formed by Republican State Representative Bob Gardner, who also defended (and lost) the case in court. (Gardner’s organization has yet to comply with the Court’s order, months later). CIW also forced two Democratic legislative candidates and a sitting State Senator to amend their reports or return their contributions illegally accepted from lobbyists during the legislative session, and won a judgment against former State Rep. Mike McLachlan for thousands in penalties for illegal contributions. Most recently, CIW extracted a guilty plea on 12 counts of violating state law from Ryan Call’s “brainchild,” the so-called ‘Colorado Republican Party Independent Expenditure Committee.’