GCEA board settles election complaint filed by candidate

Timeliness of contribution disclosures an issue

By Mark Reaman

Things got a little spicy in the Gunnison County Electric Association (GCEA) election as one District 7 candidate filed a formal complaint against another. Frank Stern filed a formal complaint against Shannon Hessler on May 30 alleging she did not disclose a couple of campaign contributions in the required timeframe. The board of directors held a special meeting on June 3 and determined one of the complaints was legitimate and the second was “unfounded.”

According to Stern’s complaint, he felt Hessler’s disclosure statement posted on May 22 on the GCEA candidate webpage violated the GCEA election policies. His complaint stated that the board policy is clear that “A candidate must complete a Disclosure Report and provide it to the GCEA Executive Assistant prior to the candidate using a Campaign Contribution for the benefit of his/her campaign.”

 Stern alleged that, “The April 15 in-kind contribution for photography was clearly received well before posting and seems likely to have been used as her two campaign ads and her mailing contained photographs…It seems likely that Shannon received a pledge or promise, which was not disclosed, for the $5,000 Protect Our Winter (POW) contribution prior to receiving the money on May 22. She’s published at least two newspaper ads and issued a bulk mailing before that date. I have particular insight into this likelihood as I was offered a contribution by the same political action fund last year. I turned it down because I did not think outside contributions were appropriate. Note that they offered the money first, they did not just give it to me.”

Stern told the board in his complaint that given the size of the POW contribution and disclosure timing, lack of timeliness might have a significant impact on the election. “I believe this is particularly important due to the contribution by an outside political action fund. The infusion of a large amount of money to a candidate from an outside source is something that should be brought to the attention of voters,” he stated in the complaint.

Stern initially made the GCEA administration aware of his concerns last month and according to GCEA CEO Mike McBride, he was given the opportunity to have his allegations remain informal and not be taken to the Board of Directors. “Frank did not choose this option which would have meant some investigation and then counseling Ms. Hessler as to her compliance obligations,” McBride said. “The other choice we gave Frank was to submit his allegations directly to the Board and thereby trigger board action. Frank made a formal complaint to Michelle Lehmann, Board President, on May 30.”

Once the formal complaint was submitted, McBride worked with the co-op’s general counsel to investigate the allegations and report back to the board. “The working concept of the Board’s process is to ensure a fair and accurate process for alleged violations as well as considerations of fairness of the election in general with respect to the consequences,” he explained. “The board bases its analysis of issues concerning disclosure rules on the primary purpose of the disclosure rules which is to provide GCEA members with information regarding contributions of outside interests which may be relevant to a member’s decision to vote for a particular director candidate.”

The GCEA issued a press release on Monday explaining that the GCEA Board of Directors met in a special meeting on June 3. The purpose of the meeting was to review the formal allegations for violations of campaign disclosure requirements.

“The board of directors determined that Ms. Hessler was late in disclosing in-kind photographic services provided to her campaign. The Board concluded that lateness of the disclosure and the subject matter cannot reasonably be considered to have any significant impact on the election,” the GCEA press release stated. “The Board indicated that both the disclosure and its finding of the technical violation were made in a sufficient amount of time prior to the election to minimize any potential impact on voting decisions by members. The Board directed GCEA staff to note the technical violation of the applicable election rules on the candidate profile of Ms. Hessler on GCEA’s website.”

As for the second alleged violation with the $5,000 Protect Our Winters contribution, “the Board determined that Mr. Stern’s allegation was unfounded and that Ms. Hessler did not violate election rules regarding her financial contribution disclosure,” the statement relayed.

Stern had no comment on the situation after the board findings were made.

Hessler said she is ready to refocus on the issues at hand. “I am really excited to have the support of so many people interested and engaged in this election, and I am extremely humbled by the Protect Our Winters (POW)’s and others endorsement,” she said. “POW is a bipartisan group that works to engage outdoor enthusiasts to protect the places we love and an organization I have been extremely involved with as a volunteer for 5+ years. When this election complaint process came up, we got it fixed right away and I am thankful to the GCEA Board and staff for a thorough and fair review. I am excited to get back to the conservation about our cheaper, cleaner energy future.”

GCEA’s board president, Michelle Lehmann, said on Monday that “our process to review potential rule infractions during our election is rigorous and thorough. Our members rely on the integrity of the election process. We encourage director candidates to carefully follow all election rules.”

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