Tim Foster’s political stumping as CMU president may violate laws

Ad posted by Janet Rowland may violate the Hatch Act and the Fair Campaign Practices Act

[Update 8/14/19: Mesa County Commissioner candidate Janet Rowland pulled this ad from her Facebook page after this article was published].

People are questioning whether an ad that Mesa County Commissioner candidate Janet Rowland recently posted on her campaign Facebook page violates the law.

In the ad, Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster endorses Rowland for commissioner in his capacity as president of CMU, not as a private individual as the law requires. The law says Foster is permitted to make such an endorsement, but ONLY in his capacity as a private individual; he is specifically prohibited from using his position as a state employee for politicking or attempting to influence an election.

The ad appears to violate two separate federal laws: the Hatch Act and the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Technical guidance issued for state employees by the Colorado’s Division of Human Resources (pdf) on the implementation of these laws states,

“The Hatch Act limits the political activities of individuals employed in state departments and higher education institutions (departments) that have programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants.”

CMU accepts federal funding, thus Foster is subject to both laws.

The guidance further states,

“In general, employees of the State of Colorado may not participate in political activities while on-duty. … The purpose of laws and rules on the topic is to ensure that an individual’s political beliefs can not be interpreted as an official policy, or advocacy, by the State of Colorado.”

Former two-term Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland (January 2005 – January 2013) once compared same-sex marriage to bestiality on a state-wide talk show, embarrassing Grand Junctionites. She is running for a commissioner seat again in 2019.

The Fair Campaign Practices Act makes the distinction between activities in which a citizen can engage in his or her own time, and activities in which they engage in as an employee of a state-funded department, board, or political subdivision. As long as an employee is acting strictly as a private citizen, no restraints are placed on campaign activities, but an employee who is “on the clock,” or “on the job,” must be very careful not to violate the FCPA.

Whenever Tim Foster acts as President of Colorado Mesa University, he is construed as being “on the clock,” so politicking in this capacity is strictly prohibited.

The state’s guidance is very clear:  “Employees may not use their official authority or influence to interfere with an election.” 

Foster himself in the past has shown he is aware of these laws. In 2016 he retaliated against a CMU instructor for politicking by using his position as a state employee at the university. Foster suspended assistant professor Stan Heister from his tenure-track position for two academic years after Heister invited a woman from the political advocacy group Work for Progress to recruit students to campaign for 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Experienced Republicans and former legislators like Foster and Rowland must know better. They are almost certainly well aware that they need to avoid even the appearance of violating the Hatch Act and FCPA, but for some reason they’ve decided to blow them off and hope no one will notice.

Well, we noticed.

And, we may add, we’ve also noticed that under the Trump administration, respecting U.S. laws and norms has become a thing of the past. Local politicos seem to be taking their cues from on high.


  7 comments for “Tim Foster’s political stumping as CMU president may violate laws

  1. It was interesting that Foster came down so hard on Heister because in the previous gubernatorial election Tim Foster, President of CMU, was quoted endorsing a Republican primary candidate for Governor.

  2. Republicans do not honor the rule of law, the rules of humanity nor even basic rules of elections. Electing Rowland, a re-tread, is guaranteeing more of the same. No one is running against her. If Ray Scott wins in the Fruita district, that will give the county McInnis, Scott and Rowland. This is not good.

  3. It’s sad to see a university president openly supporting an anti-LGBT candidate. There are hundreds of at- risk youth in Mesa County and they need adults who support everyone equally. I hope Tim Foster has the grace to step down because this is a slap in the face to Christian love & tolerance.

  4. The Trump administration and the Republicans have abandoned the rule of law as they’ve done with their morals, principles, and decency.

  5. A lot of laws appear to be there just for looks. The Hatch Act has not been enforced lately and has been actually grossly misused by the Trump administration. The rules for candidacy for certain offices require a residency in those areas for a period of time. Matt Soper showed those rules mean nothing. Try getting certain labor laws enforced. Those laws have no teeth and are only really supported by unions. Our president has rallies for himself. Taxpayer funds are used for that. What a lot of these rules and laws depend on are ethics. Something that just doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

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