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Sen. Tate's Supporters Lobbied In Front Of His Committee, Gave To His Campaign

Colorado Senate Republicans
Sen. Jack Tate

Five women lobbyists who voiced support for Sen. Jack Tate after sexual harassment allegations against him also did business before the committee he chairs earlier this year.

Last month, KUNC reported on formal complaints against Tate, R-Centennial, Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, and Lebsock, D-Thornton.

Three are chairmen of legislative committees. But only Lebsock has been removed from his committee chairmanship.

Tate is the only lawmaker women lobbyists have come forward to vouch for.

Tate chairs the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee. It deals with interests including liquor, marijuana, telecommunications and insurance. The lobbyists supporting him represent companies such as CenturyLink, Walmart, liquor organizations and others.

All five women lobbyists worked on bills sponsored by Tate or before his committee. Three of them donated to his campaign.

They’ve also come under fire from other women for their support in a series of Facebook posts, where some questioned their motivations, drawing objections from some of the lobbyists in lengthy comment threads.

Colorado Common Cause Executive Director Elena Nunez talked about the potential for conflicts.

“I think some of the conversations around some of the latest allegations and defending some legislators and not others really reveals that,” she said. “The dynamic really reveals the challenge of confronting sexual harassment in a political context.”

For example, three of the women – Micki Hackenberger, Megan Dubray and Joan Green – lobbied in a support of a bill on liquor sales in supermarkets and chain stores that passed Tate’s committee. Ultimately, Senate Bill 143 failed by a single vote on the Senate floor.

Supporting a key lawmaker

Dubray told KUNC last month that her experiences with Tate were always positive. KUNC originally reported that an intern left her job at the Capitol because Tate made her feel so uncomfortable. The intern has since filed a formal complaint against Tate.

In a text message, Dubray declined to discuss Tate or the sexual harassment allegations.

“I believe I’ve spoken enough on the matter,” she wrote.

In 2015, Tate sponsored and passed a bill (House Bill 1390) that would have allowed lenders to charge higher interest rates on subprime loans. Dubray represented Springleaf Financial, and was among only a few lobbyists listed as supporting the measure, which Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed.

Earlier this year, Dubray lobbied on three bills sponsored by Tate, though she opposed one of them. She also lobbied on 16 other bills heard before his committee, representing CenturyLink, Walmart and others.

Eight of the 19 bills Axiom Strategies President Micki Hackenberger lobbied on came before Tate’s committee, including two sponsored by the senator. Hackenberger lobbied against one of Tate’s bills that ultimately became law. She represents the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Colorado and others.

All five women also had bills before committees chaired by Lebsock and Baumgardner. Hackenberger said she has not had problems with any of the other accused lawmakers.

“My personal experience with them has been nothing but professional,” Hackenberger said.

Tate is also a key figure in the debate over the state’s employee retirement system, which is a hot topic for the legislature in 2018. Three of the five women have or will lobby on such bills.

Hackenberger’s firm is representing the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association before the legislature this year. Dubray represented PERA for the last three years and continues to. Joan Andrew Green Turner represents the Colorado County Employee Retirement Association, which operates its own retirement system and monitors bills related to PERA.

Turner replied to an email inquiry with this statement:  "With the variety of clients I represent, I have a lot of bills before a lot of committees each legislative session – as you can well see."

Three of the five lobbyists who spoke out in support of Tate also gave money to his 2016 Senate campaign – Hackenberger ($800), Turner ($200) and Cindy Sovine Miller ($400).

And some of their clients gave big bucks to the Senate Majority Fund, which spent more than $26,000 supporting Tate in 2016. Among those donations:

  • Business organization Colorado Concern, one of Dubray’s clients, donated $97,500 to the Majority Fund.
  • Walmart, another Dubray client, donated $15,000 to the fund in late 2014.
  • The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Colorado, represented by Hackenberger, donated $11,500 to the Majority Fund and $600 to Tate.
  • The Distilled Beverage Council of the United State, represented by Turner, donated $5,000 to the fund.

Free public relations support for Tate?

A Denver public relations expert who has worked with one of the lobbyists is helping Tate deal with the negative publicity surrounding the allegations. Wendy Aiello, president of Aiello Public Relations, said she’s providing her advice to Tate at no charge.

But she said she didn’t want to discuss his situation beyond that.

Nunez said such free services might be a problem given Colorado’s gift ban, which prohibits gift of more than $59, including services provided.

“What’s the line between commenting on a story and doing ongoing PR or defense, which would be a thing of value that another legislator might have to pay for?” Nunez asked. “If you’re doing it for free, you’re really violating the gift ban by providing these services.”

When told about the gift law, Aiello told KUNC she’d “investigate” it.

Lobbyist Megan Dubray is listed as “of counsel” to Aiello’s firm, and cites working as relations manager for the firm in the past.

Axiom Strategies President Micki Hackenberger said she talked with Aiello before submitting a written statement in support of Tate to a Denver television station last month.

Hackenberger and lobbyist Cindy Sovine Miller both said their support for Tate didn’t mean they were discounting women who made allegations against him.

“I made a statement based on my personal experience,” Hackenberger said. “I have not commented and I cannot comment on the other people who have made allegations.”

Sovine Miller, who represents the Drug Policy Alliance, Denver Relief Counseling and others, reiterated her support of Tate originally voiced to Colorado Politics. She said there needs to be a larger conversation about sexual harassment.

“I would actually do it over again,” she said of her defense of Tate. “This really touches on very important issues that we need to be talking about. What is considered acceptable behavior to one person might not be acceptable to another.”

The women were criticized on Facebook for their support of Tate by Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman and former state senator Morgan Carroll and Holly Tarry, one of the women who filed a complaint against Lebsock.

Several lobbyists countered that criticism in the Facebook comment threads.

And Sovine Miller said she spoke on Tate’s behalf without consulting anyone else.

“I know Micki and I know Meg, but I didn’t talk to either of them until after we were being lambasted by our female colleagues,” she said.

For more detail on specific bills and contributions, see #COpolitics.

Sandra Fish is a Colorado data journalist specializing in politics and government. She’s worked for newspapers in Iowa, Florida and Colorado. And she’s written about politics for Politics Daily, the Washington Post, Al Jazeera America and Roll Call.
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