Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton raised eyebrows yesterday when he testified before Congress in support of a public pension fund transparency bill. While Stapleton argued in favor of transparency in Washington, DC, he has been resisting it here in Colorado, refusing to disclose how much time he is spending on his second job as a consultant for SonomaWest Holdings, Inc., where he was president before being elected last November. Now that Stapleton's family is in the process of buying the outstanding shares of SonomaWest so the company can "go private" and avoid federal reporting requirements, Coloradans will soon be deprived of the main source of information about their treasurer's outside work.
What we do know about Stapleton's outside work is primarily based on disclosures filed by SonomaWest with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Under the consulting agreement, Stapleton is to be paid $250 per hour up to $150,000 per year, well more than what he makes as state treasurer. That would work out to about 11 hours per week over the course of the year. While Stapleton's defenders have pointed out that SonomaWest's California real estate business doesn't present conflicts of interest with the treasurer's job, financing for the tender offer is backed by a line of credit with Wachovia Bank, a company that has done business with the treasurer's office as recently as 2010. All of this raises serious questions about whether Colorado has a full-time treasurer acting solely in the State's best interest.
State disclosure laws, designed for part-time citizen legislators expected to hold outside jobs, require only the identification of sources of outside income. In contrast, state employees who want to take outside employment are required by state personnel rules to disclose the terms of the proposed arrangement to their department head, who "shall base approval on whether the outside employment interferes with the performance of the state job or is inconsistent with the interests of the state, including raising criticism or appearance of a conflict." Stapleton, as head of the Department of the Treasury, answers only to the people of Colorado. Aren't we entitled to know at least the same information Stapleton would need to know to decide whether to approve outside work by an employee in his department?
If Stapleton won't agree to disclose all of the terms of his continued work for SonomaWest, the legislature should put stronger disclosure laws for the statewide constitutional officials (governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state) at the top of its agenda.