Colorado's state treasurer may earn up to $150,000 annually -- in addition to his $68,500 state salary -- under a contract to consult for his former real estate investment company.
Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton
, elected this fall, is the second Colorado elected official to continue consulting with a former employer.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler plans to work for his former law firm
, which specializes in elections law, up to 20 hours a month. Gessler said he can't support his family on his $68,500 annual state salary.
As with Gessler, questions about conflict of interest -- or at least the appearance of it -- are being raised about Stapleton's work, which could be up to 50 hours a month.
Colorado Ethics Watch
, a government watchdog group, is looking into both moonlighting cases to determine whether to file a complaint with the state.
"As state treasurer, they're supposed to be investing for the state of Colorado. What if there are state funds that are invested in this company?" asked Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch. "There are different sets of laws for different officials and we're still wading through all of that."
Stapleton's office issued a response saying his outside consulting with his previous firm -- SonomaWest -- isn't a problem.
"There is no conflict of interest with respect to his duties as Colorado's Treasurer," wrote Deputy Treasurer Brett Johnson in an e-mail. "SonomaWest does not operate within the realm of public finance. While Treasurer Stapleton has discussed this matter with the AG's office, he has not asked for a formal ruling on this matter because the relationship with SonomaWest
does not represent any conflict of interest in any shape or form."
Johnson said he isn't sure how much time Stapleton will spend consulting for his old company.
Stapleton stepped down as chairman, president and CEO of SonomaWest Holdings Inc.
, his family's publicly traded real estate company, on Dec. 31, just before taking office as state treasurer, a full-time job.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in early January, SonomaWest said he would continue to provide consulting for $250 an hour,
up to a maximum of $150,000 a year. The contract is between SonomaWest and Rocky Mountain Trust LLC, a company that Stapleton created in late December, according to records with the Colorado Secretary of State. The company's controller confirmed in an e-mail that Stapleton will continue to consult with the company while his father takes over as president, CEO and chairman for a salary of $60,000 a year.
Stapleton earned more than $431,000 from SonomaWest in 2009, according to SEC filings. A member of a prominent Denver family headed by Ben Stapleton, for whom Denver's old Stapleton Airport was named, Stapleton is also a second cousin of former President George H.W. Bush; Barbara Bush donated $1,000 to Stapleton's campaign.
Stapleton put more than $200,000 of his own money
to his campaign for treasurer, in which he narrowly defeated the Democratic incumbent. At one point during the campaign, Stapleton referred to talking about his 1999 San Francisco drunken-driving arrest as "being forced to eat a doo-doo sandwich."
Two people were injured in that accident in which Stapleton ran a red light
and drove into a cab.
The state treasurer's office invests the state's money in an effort to maximize investments.
The state's voters should be concerned about the moonlighting, said Elena Nunez, project director for Colorado Common Cause.
"It's problematic. The people of Colorado elected them to carry out full-time jobs, arguably more than full-time jobs," Nunez said. "It calls into question where their priorities are."
Mark Grueskin, an election lawyer who's worked in Colorado since the mid-1980s, said Colorado's elected officials are poorly paid compared to those in other states.
"I don't think anyone would dispute the fact that the payscales of these statewide jobs need to be updated and improved significantly," he said. "To no small extent, it's the appearance as much as the reality that affects public officials. The problem for the officials themselves is that the credibility of their decision-making is affected when people perceive that there were reasons other than the public's best interest that helped shape their decision-making."
The perception might be different if Stapleton or Gessler decided to pursue woodworking to make extra cash, Grueskin said. "You're better off making bookcases than rendering the kind of professional services you're talking about here."
While Gessler asked the Colorado attorney general to review his consulting arrangement with his former law firm, Stapleton hasn't filed such a request, said AG spokesman Mike Saccone. He said he couldn't release Gessler's request because it is considered attorney-client privilege.
Attorney General John Suthers teaches classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and at the University of Denver Law School, Saccone said. "That doesn't seem to present any conflict of interest," Colorado Ethics Watch's Toro said of Suthers teaching law or criminal just classes at universities.