State Elections Director Resigns Amid Ethics Watch Investigation
State Elections Director Holly Lowder resigned Thursday without an official explanation. Lowder's resignation occurred shortly after Ethics Watch served a Colorado Open Records Act ("CORA") request on the Colorado Secretary of State's office seeking documents regarding state contracts with voter database consultant John Paulsen, who purportedly leased a condominium to Lowder.
John Paulsen is identified on the secretary of state's website on a list of key personnel involved with the Statewide Colorado Voter Registration and Election ("SCORE") system and the registered agent for two businesses known as LEDS, LLC and Proscan. He is also the owner of a Denver condominium that was apparently leased to Holly Lowder, the State Elections Director who resigned Thursday. Ethics Watch launched an investigation into whether Lowder leased a condominium from Paulsen and the extent of Paulsen's business relationships with the secretary of state's office, and whether the relationship constituted an improper conflict of interest.
To that end, Ethics Watch submitted a CORA request on the secretary of state's office on August 29, 2008, seeking documents regarding contracts between the State of Colorado and Paulsen's two businesses. On Thursday, September 4, the date the secretary of state's office was required by law to respond to Ethics Watch's CORA, Lowder abruptly resigned from her position as Elections Director.
The documents obtained by Ethics Watch show that Paulsen's company, LEDS, LLC, has received $183,800 in contracts within the last year from the State of Colorado to provide election-related consulting services for the Elections Division.
Colorado law and State Personnel Board rules prohibit state employees from engaging "in any . . . activity which creates a conflict of interest with his duties as a state employee."
Lowder abruptly resigned amid Ethics Watch's investigation to determine whether she had a conflict of interest by leasing property from a person receiving contracts from the Elections Division, which Lowder directs. Her resignation strongly suggests that an improper conflict indeed existed.
This would not be the first time Secretary of State Mike Coffman tolerated conflicts of interest by Elections Division employees. In December 2007, in response to an audit request made by Ethics Watch, the Colorado State Auditor released a performance audit that found that Dan Kopelman, an employee in the Elections Division, improperly operated a partisan political consulting business in conflict with his duties as a state employee. The audit also concluded that Secretary Coffman was not adequately ensuring compliance with mandates related to possible conflicts of interest of his staff, and that he was legally accountable for failing to do so. To correct these problems, the audit formally recommended that Secretary Coffman "adopt a proactive management approach to ensuring compliance with state law and personnel rules related to employee conflicts of interest. . ."