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Verify: Is Colorado's treasurer getting a free political ad?

A viewer asked whether the treasurer pays for his ad about the "Great Colorado Payback," and whether it's just free advertising since "this guy is running for governor."
Colorado treasurer Walker Stapleton


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A viewer named Todd emailed us to ask about the ad Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton is running advertising the “Great Colorado Payback.”

It’s a program that promises to reunite Coloradans with their unclaimed assets.

Todd’s seen the ad for years and wondered about the claim that no taxpayer dollars are used for it. He also asked whether that means we’re running it for free.

And “Why is it running 10 times a day at the same time this guy is running for governor?  This seems more like free ads for ‘Stapleton for Governor,’” Todd wrote in his email.  “Am I wrong?”


The first thing we did was check the Secretary of State’s website to see whether Stapleton filed paperwork to run for governor.

He hasn’t.

Colorado political observers believe Stapleton is going to run for the Republican nomination, but that’s not the same thing as filing official paperwork or making an announcement.

It’s an important distinction.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules state a person must do three things to be considered a “legally qualified candidate” when it comes to political ads on TV.

He or she must publicly announce, file the necessary paperwork with the state or federal government and meet all the eligibility requirements for the office like age or place of residence.

Once someone meets those requirements, 9NEWS is bound by another FCC rule known as equal opportunity.

That means we would have to offer any other candidate for governor equal time every time we aired Stapleton’s payback ad.

That doesn’t mean they’ll take advantage of that opportunity but we have to offer it.

As to whether we let Stapleton run his ads for free, the answer is no.

The Treasurer’s Office gave 9NEWS an invoice showing how much it spent running the ad on television and in print on different TV stations and newspapers.

The total was about $192,000 in 2017.

That’s similar to the amount spent in previous years. In 2014, the Treasurer’s Office spent about $191,000 to run the ad.

Stapleton has been Colorado’s treasurer since 2011 so he’s been in these commercials for a number of years. It’s one of the benefits of being the state treasurer.

The ad runs during the month of March every year, according to the invoices.

As to whether Stapleton’s office is using public tax dollars, that answer is also no.

He’s technically using public funds but the money comes from the interest on people’s unclaimed property, not tax dollars.


Stapleton runs his “Great Colorado Payback” ad at about the same time every year, and he pays for it using interest from those unclaimed funds.

The ad doesn’t qualify as an official political commercial unless he’s an official candidate, and as of today, he’s not officially running for governor.

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