The owner of the Colorado signature collection firm lambasted Tuesday by Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton and accused of lying about a petition circulator's position says he was misled by a subcontractor and brushed aside responsibility for Stapleton tossing his ballot petitions.
Dan Kennedy is the owner of Kennedy Enterprises, the Colorado Springs-based signature collection firm that Stapleton's campaign, as well as the campaign for Congressman Doug Lamborn, used to petition onto this year's primary ballots in their respective races.
Stapleton, the state treasurer, is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination, while Lamborn is seeking reelection to Colorado's 5th congressional district.
On Tuesday, Stapleton in a hasty news conference announced he was tossing out all of his ballot petitions – which had already been certified by Secretary of State Wayne Williams – saying in a letter that Kennedy Enterprises "lied to [his campaign]" about one of the petition circulators the company had employed to gather signatures for Stapleton's campaign.
Denver7 Investigates broke the story that one of the circulators Kennedy Enterprises had employed to collect signatures for Stapleton, named Daniel Velasquez, had been secretly recorded by a campaign aide working for Republican Doug Robinson making questionable claims about the signature gathering operation and whether or not he was a Colorado resident – a requirement for circulators.
"Most of my people can't even register to vote because they're all felons. You know, most of them," the man, who identified himself as "Daniel Velasquez," said in the call, which Denver7 Investigates reviewed. "That's just me being honest with you. If you want to work with me, you're going to get those [signature] numbers, you're going to work with a whole bunch of rowdy individuals. You know, a whole bunch of rowdy individuals from the hood."
When Denver7 first reported the story, Kennedy denied – to the best of his knowledge, he said – having anyone named Daniel Velasquez working on the Stapleton campaign. The Stapleton campaign also maintained it had no knowledge of such a person working for the petition drive.
But when Stapleton made his announcement Tuesday, he said that Kennedy Enterprises had indeed employed Velasquez, and that Velasquez had been allowed to circulate petitions under the guise of being a different person. He said he planned to sue Kennedy Enterprises and encouraged the secretary of state to investigate.
"Until last night, Dan Kennedy and those working for him insisted that no such individual had ever worked for Kennedy Enterprises," Stapleton's letter to Williams said. "Worse than lying to my campaign, they lied to your office when your office specifically asked about these news reports."
Denver7 requested comment from Kennedy both by phone and email on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning. He responded Wednesday afternoon after this story was first published, with the same statement he provided Tuesday to another Colorado media outlets, including Denver7's news partners at The Denver Post.
In the statement, Kennedy said he'd only learned of new information about Velasquez on Monday night, and he denied lying to Stapleton or the secretary of state.
"Approximately a month ago the Stapleton campaign inquired of me regarding a particular situation. Directly after that conversation I relayed this inquiry to the appropriate subcontractor of Kennedy Enterprises who researched this and reported information to me which I believed to be true and I passed on that information to the Stapleton campaign and the Colorado Secretary of State," Kennedy said in the statement.
"Last night (April 9, 2018) when presented with some new information from the Stapleton campaign I inquired again to the subcontractor who, again looked into this matter and reported to me that I had previously been misled," he continued in the statement. "I immediately reported this new information to the Stapleton campaign."
"Therefore, I have not and did not lie to any of my clients or the Colorado Secretary of State at any time. And to the best of my knowledge the signatures collected on the Stapleton campaign we're [sic] all collected lawfully," Kennedy said. "I hold the Stapleton campaign, as well as all of my clients with the utmost regard and regret this apparent misunderstanding."
But as Colorado Politics reports, Kennedy Enterprises has a long history of being scrutinized.
Stapleton's campaign had yet to file the lawsuit as of Wednesday, his campaign manager said. Stapleton is now preparing for Saturday's state assembly, where he must garner 30 percent of the assembly vote in order to qualify for June's primary ballot.
Some of his prospective primary opponents took the chance to take digs at Stapleton upon his Tuesday announcement.
But Stapleton's ire was clearly focused on Kennedy, and he encouraged his opponents and others to file suit against Kennedy as well.
"We're going to be filing a suit and encourage anyone else harmed to [do so] as well," Stapleton said at Tuesday's news conference. "And hopefully this will be Mr. Kennedy's last day in business."
Meanwhile, A Denver District Court judge on Tuesday upheld the successful ballot petition for Lamborn, whose campaign also used Kennedy Enterprises to gather signatures. But while one of the collectors' signatures were put in question by the judge over residency requirements, Lamborn still had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Opponents who had sued Williams over the signatures say they plan to appeal.