Delta County Sheriff’s Office settles campaign violation

Delta County Sheriff's Office. 

As part of a settlement with the Secretary of State’s Office, the Delta County Sheriff’s Office was fined $500 for violating Colorado finance laws in connection with the 2020 Back the Badge Initiative (1A) campaign.

Sheriff Mark Taylor issued a check in the full amount on Nov. 25, 2020 following the completion of an investigation into the matter.

According to the election division the penalty was “substantially increased” because the department failed to delete “shares” from its Facebook page, where they remained accessible throughout the 2020 election. The posts were distributed to approximately 6,000 DCSO Facebook followers.

While the DCSO had deleted posts on its own Facebook site and changed its cover photo, remaining references or “shares” originating from a separate, privately managed account mentioned in the settlement agreement, were not removed.

The sheriff’s office maintained that deleting the outside “shares” would violate citizens’ First Amendment rights. While the Secretary of State’s Office did not offer an opinion on the matter, it did take the county’s explanation into consideration prior to imposing the penalty.

According to the settlement agreement, the DCSO used staff time and official government communications platforms to rally support for the 2020 Back the Badge Initiative (1A).

Colorado law prohibits an agency of a political subdivision from “expending any moneys from any source, or making any contributions, to urge electors to vote in favor of or against” any local ballot issue or referred measure.

Taylor’s department was found in violation of campaign finance laws for sharing posts from a privately managed Facebook account set-up to advocate for the Back the Badge Initiative which in turn showed up on the DCSO’s official Facebook Page.

According to the settlement agreement, one of the shares was on Aug. 19, 2020, the day the measure was referred to voters, and another was on Aug. 28, 2020, after the measure was referred to local voters.

On Aug. 28, 2020, the DCSO advertised via Facebook that Back the Badge yard signs which supported the measure and urged voters to “Vote Yes on 1A ” were available. In addition to the posts, the department updated its “cover photo” on its Facebook page which also supported the initiative.

According to the state’s investigation, the department also used approximately 41 hours of official staff time on the campaign and subsequently sent an invoice to Back the Badge a small-scale issue committee in the amount of $1,344.10 on Sept. 28, 2020.

The complaint against the DCSO was filed by the state’s election division on Oct.15, 2020 after being notified of a possible violation by a Delta citizen Richard Stelter.

Upon hearing about the settlement, Stelter said he would like to see Delta County Commissioners investigate the matter to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

“There was a significant amount of county resources, a significant amount of staff time and resources that were used. Was that reimbursed to the county?” asked Stelter. “Now we need to go back and we need to trace this. There needs to be a forensic audit, an investigation by the county commissioners.”

In previous reporting, Taylor told local media that as soon as the department was notified of the possible violation he began to correct the problem.

“On Oct. 15, I was notified that this was in fact a violation. We are working to resolve this issue with the Campaign Finance Enforcement Division,” Taylor said, adding, that he took complete ownership of the campaign rule violation.

The 2020 Back the Badge Initiative passed with 59.62% of the vote in Delta County. The 0.8% sales tax increase was implemented on Jan. 1, and supports all Delta County law enforcement agencies.

The sheriff’s department receives 52% of the Back the Badge revenue, estimated to be approximately $1.4 million.

“Our immediate response is more deputies, more law enforcement on the street, and Back the Badge will bring it,” Taylor said prior to the election.

The department’s initial plan is to spend the new sales tax revenue on the hiring of four additional deputies, replacing vehicles in the sheriff’s fleet and potentially increasing jail staff.

The DCSO did not respond to requests for comments on the settlement with the Secretary of State’s Office by deadline.

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