Truth Test: Walker Stapleton attendance ad is tardy on context

The ad is paid for by Good Jobs Colorado, which lists its purpose "to oppose Republican candidates for governor and support Democratic candidates for governor." In other words, it's a committee that supports Jared Polis for governor.

KUSA — Never since your days in grade school has attendance been such a focal point as it is with the 2018 elections.

First, we had a political ad challenging Democratic Congressional candidate Jason Crow for his attendance at Colorado Board of Veterans Affairs meetings, now we have one focusing on Republican Gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton's attendance at PERA board meetings.

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The ad is paid for by Good Jobs Colorado, which lists its purpose "to oppose Republican candidates for governor and support Democratic candidates for governor." In other words, it's a committee that supports Jared Polis for governor.

CLAIM: "Precarious. Critical. As Colorado's pension system barreled toward a funding crisis, where was our state treasurer?"

VERDICT: Not true. The ad hasn't quite got to the claim it's trying to make, but state treasurer Walker Stapleton and/or his deputy treasurer have participated with the board for Colorado's pension system as it managed the fund and made legislative recommendations.

First, you need to understand "Colorado's pension system." PERA -- Public Employees Retirement Association -- is the retirement fund for more than 580,000 current and former state employees, including teachers, state troopers and prison guards. The PERA board is made up of 16 board members. One of those spots is reserved for the state treasurer.

This year, the PERA board made recommendations to the state legislature to get PERA fully funded for retirees within 30 years.

The state legislature has the power to initiate those changes and pass a bill sending them to the governor for his signature to make them law.

It required a literal 11th hour negotiation on the last day of the legislative session, but lawmakers passed a bill that made changes to PERA to get it fully funded within 30 years.

Those changes include increasing employee and employer contributions, lowering the cost of living adjustment and raising the retirement age for some state employees.

Based on the actions of the PERA board, legislature and governor, crisis averted…for now.

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CLAIM: "Walker Stapleton was absent. Even though overseeing our pension system is one of his top responsibilities, Stapleton missed nearly half the pension meetings, missing 33 in all."

VERDICT: This stat is close, but my math is better because I caught a board meeting that Good Jobs Colorado missed, and I counted the two most recent meetings which were not included in their math.

Stapleton missed 35 of 77 meetings since he became treasurer in January 2011. However, Stapleton and/or his deputy treasurer have attended all but five of the meetings. Stapleton has had three deputy treasurers since 2011: Brett Johnson, Jon Forbes and Ryan Parsell.

With each deputy, Stapleton asked the board to pass a resolution allowing the deputy "the authority to act on (Stapleton's) behalf as a member of the PERA Board of Trustees when he is absent due to other official duties."

CLAIM: "Stapleton was busy at things like political events, golf outings and lunching with campaign donors."

VERDICT: Not true.

The ad does not give citations on screen for the references to "political events, golf outings and lunching with campaign donors."

We requested the backup information Good Jobs Colorado, and also requested Stapleton's official Treasurer calendar from his office.

There are two PERA meetings that Stapleton personally missed when he was scheduled to talk to rotary clubs.

On Apr. 18, 2012, Stapleton was scheduled at the Cherry Creek Valley Rotary at 11:15 a.m. There was a PERA board meeting from 9 a.m. until 3:50 p.m. that day. His deputy, Johnson, attended the PERA meeting for Stapleton.

On Mar. 15, 2013, he was scheduled at the Colorado Nonprofit Awards Week luncheon from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., while a PERA meeting was happening from 9 a.m. until 3:36 p.m. Johnson attended the PERA meeting in Stapleton's absence.

On Apr. 23, 2015, he was scheduled to speak at the Highlands Ranch Rotary in Lone Tree until 1:30 p.m. The PERA meeting was scheduled at 1 p.m. and lasted until 5:30 p.m. His deputy, Forbes, attended the meeting, but Stapleton never showed up after his rotary club.

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A nonprofit award luncheon is not a political event. Rotary Clubs do not endorse political candidates, so it should not be considered a political event.

On Sept. 21, 2012, Stapleton was scheduled to attend a Prostate Cancer Golf Event at Castle Pines Golf Club from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The PERA meeting started at 8:30 a.m. and lasted until 11:33 a.m. at the Westin Hotel in Westminster. Johnson sat in for Stapleton.

The golf event for a cause is not quite a "golf outing."

The context behind the lunches are misleading because in two of three lunches, the PERA meeting hadn't happened yet or was already over. However, because of that, it's not clear why Stapleton missed those meetings.

On Feb. 9, 2015, Stapleton attended the PERA board meeting that started at 10:30 a.m. He left 15 minutes before it ended. His schedule showed a lunch with lobbyist Josh Hanfling at 11:30 a.m. State campaign finance records show that Hanfling contributed $250 to Stapleton's reelection campaign for Treasurer in Dec. 2013.

On Mar. 5, 2015, neither he nor Forbes attended the PERA meeting that lasted from 10 a.m. until 10:45 a.m.

His schedule had him dining from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. with energy executive Fletcher Newton. State campaign finance records show that Newton contributed $1,100 to Stapleton's reelection campaign for Treasurer in June 2014.

On Feb. 25, 2016, he had a lunch with energy executive Mike Starzer. That lunch was on his schedule from noon to 1 p.m. The PERA meeting that day did not start until 3 p.m. Forbes attended that meeting on behalf of Stapleton. State campaign finance records show that Starzer contributed $1,100 to Stapleton's reelection campaign for Treasurer in Aug. 2013.

BOTTOM LINE: The ad is close to the exact number when it states how many PERA board meetings Stapleton has personally missed. It completely fails to tell you that his deputy has been granted the same voting power to attend the meetings and make decisions on behalf of the Treasurer's Office.

When all 77 meetings are counted, the Treasurer's Office was not represented in just five meetings. The ad also fails to support the claims that his absence is for political gain.

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However, Stapleton's official calendar does not provide sufficient proof for why he did not attend meetings before or after scheduled lunches with people who had previously contributed to his campaign.