On September 29, Colorado Administrative Law Judge Timothy Nemecheck fined former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters $15,400 for illegally soliciting and accepting contributions to a 2022 re-election campaign for county clerk without first registering as a candidate with the State.
The fine was the end result of two campaign finance complaints filed in 2021 by Scott Beilfuss, who is now a Grand Junction City Councilman. The first complaint was dated August 16, 2021. Beilfuss wrote a single sentence:
“Tina Peters flew up to Mr. Pillows cybersymposium on a private plane provided to her and is staying as a guest of the Pillow foundation in a clear violation of accepting gift laws.”
Beilfuss’ second complaint was in September, 2021. In that one, he complained that Peters was soliciting unrestricted contributions to her legal defense fund, in violation of state law that restricts what elected officials can accept as gifts:
In response to the complaints, Peters, through her attorney, former Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, denied any wrongdoing and suggested Beilfuss had filed his complaints in the wrong jurisdiction. They claimed these were ethics complaints, not campaign finance complaints.
The Court didn’t buy it.
The state found not only did Peters solicit and accept contributions in violation of state campaign finance laws, but that she should have known better because she had complied with all state campaign finance laws previously, when she ran for Clerk in 2018. The state further found Peters was aware she was soliciting contributions in a way that violated state law. A witness in the case pointed out that Peters was aware she had updated her campaign site and Facebook page to reflect a 2022 run for Clerk and was pulling in contributions for the campaign at the same time she had become a high-profile, national election-denier celebrity and whose requests for donations were getting national airplay.
Beyond this, Peters had turned down multiple opportunities the state had given her to cure the violations and comply with the law after the fact, but Peters ignored all of them.
The State Attorney General was finally forced to file a lawsuit against Peters for violating campaign finance law.
Taking the 5th
Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole matter arose when attorneys for the State deposed Peters in the case. Peters asserted her 5th Amendment right to remain silent to avoid incriminating herself in response to question after question after question throughout the deposition. Excerpts from the deposition were included in a 30-page post-hearing statement by the Attorney General’s office. (It’s available online as the document dated 3/3/23, at this link). The post-hearing statement shows that in a sample 17 pages of the deposition, Tina Peters took the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination 43 times.
She was deposed by Assistant Attorney General Josh Barry on November, 3, 2022, in Grand Junction, accompanied by her attorney, Scott Gessler. Here are some excerpts from the deposition:
State attorneys asserted that,
“The Court should draw adverse inferences from [Peters’] testimony where she asserted her Fifth Amendment Privilege and refused to provide testimony. A party in a civil trial invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege raises a strong inference that the answers would have been ‘unfavorable and damaging, and comment to that effect is proper.'”
The “adverse inferences” that can be drawn include that Tina Peters was aware that she was violating campaign finance laws, and ignored warnings and opportunities to fix the violations because she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to rake in all the bucks people across the country were shoveling to her because of her new-found status as a darling of the election-denier set.
A scam run for SOS?
Peters seems to have figured out how to use the state’s campaign finance laws as a piggy bank to fund her personal activities. For example, she’s registered a campaign to run for Colorado Secretary of State in 2026, but beyond registration of a campaign committee on Colorado TRACER, she hasn’t announced publicly that she is running for anything, even on her campaign website. The “campaign website” she registered with the state, TinaPeters.us, says nothing about a run for any office in 2026, but she’s using it to solicit donations to help “Save America” and pay for her mounting legal expenses. Peters’ campaign finance filings for her claimed 2026 campaign show she’s has been using campaign contributions to fund everyday expenses she incurs in the course of being on the national election denier speaking circuit, things like Uber rides, meals on airplanes, checked bag fees on airlines, credit card processing fees and her monthly Verizon cell phone bill, all of which she could plausibly claim are “campaign expenses” for a 2026 campaign that may not really exist.
Of course, this could all be moot if she ends up in prison next year, after her criminal trial. Until then, she’s found a clever way to solicit and live on donated funds and will probably get away with it as long as she’s loose in society.
Additional info discovered from the state about the fine (as of 10/20/23): Tina’s fine, when paid, would be sent to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office and be placed in their general operating budget. As of October 20, 2023, an invoice has not been sent to Tina for the fine. If she fails to pay the fine, the state would eventually send it to collections. If and when she pays the fine, confirmation of the payment would be included on TRACER.