Scott Gessler not at fault for flaws in spending report, Secretary of State's office says

Categories: News, Politics

scott gessler photo cropped small.JPG
Scott Gessler.
Update: Secretary of State Scott Gessler has been named a possible suspect regarding flaws in the Colorado Independent Spending Report released by the National Institute on Money in State Politics; the report showed a total expenditure for 2006-2010 much larger then was actually the case. However, Gessler's spokesman says the Honey Badger had nothing to do with the errors.

While the institute did collect incorrect data directly from the Secretary of State's office during a time when Gessler was occupying office, communications director Rich Coolidge says office personnel didn't input it. "If you come in and you are a candidate, you enter the data into the system," he maintains. "We don't proofread it, we don't check it."

Gessler took office in 2011, one year after the data was collected for the 2006-2010 spending period. Now, according to Coolidge, the process has changed.

"Since 2002, we've learned a lot about the system and we've been patching the system from 2002 to 2009," he says. "We now have a brand new system," launched in 2010, "which is much more sophisticated and hopefully easier for people to enter data and collect data."

Read our earlier coverage for more details.

Original post, 9:49 a.m. January 19: Could Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler have provided inaccurate data for a national report -- a prospect that comes to light during the same week that NPR sent him an audio love letter?

Given his track record, it's certainly a possibility. But it might not have been his fault.

Back in August, the National Institute on Money in State Politics released a report on independent spending in Colorado between the years 2006 and 2010. However, the document was taken down almost immediately, after a mistake in expenditure calculations was discovered. It has since been corrected.

The error ensued when Institute researcher Robin Parkinson downloaded what turned out to be inaccurate data from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. The data represented a total expenditure that was multiplied several times, resulting in a figure much larger than it should have been.

"Expenditure as a whole is broken down to amounts targeting each candidate," explains Pete Quist, the Institute's lead researcher. "Say there are five candidates -- when the state shows how much money there is, we ended up attributing the total of all those targets to each specific candidate."

Quist said that out of the 22 published state reports, "this is the only time we ran into that."

The Institute wasn't at fault, because its reports came directly from the state. But Institute managing director Denise Roth Barber says she's not sure the blame should be put on Gessler, either.

When Institute staffers received the data, they had two options for download: by way of Excel spreadsheet or through text formatting. "We downloaded it in the form of text -- line-by-line -- and they had it designed so the same expenditure showed up multiple times," Roth Barber notes.

Had they chosen the Excel format, however, the total expenditure would have been listed only once. For that reason, Roth Barber says, "I think it could be argued whether it was the Secretary's mistake."

A technical malfunction in a world where computer coding triumphs over the human mind? Or, negligence on part of the Honey Badger? The vote is yours.

More from our Politics archive: "Scott Gessler's suit against Denver County for inactive-voter mailings shameful, says ACLU."

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7 comments
Bob Smith
Bob Smith

Activist this and activist that - the pendulum swings back and forth, and Gessler and ilk will pass from admired to despised. Ask Scott Walker.

Too bad Gessler didn't get that part-time job, maybe he'd do less damage in his self-aggrandizement.

Today's media? Either unabashed entertainment or severely slanted advocacy, take your pick.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

No; that would be confrontational -- someone might accuse the blamer of partisan motivations.  The People of Caw-ler-A-duh (or as some CPR announcers prefer, Cuh-luh-RUH-do) do not want to be troubled with details or facts; they want to hear something soothing and optimistic.  CPR imagines that it has discharged its journalistic duty by going so far as to report that Gessler is controversial, but the gist of the CPR's story about him is that Colorado is on the cusp of a trend towards activist Secretaries of State.

Peter Carsenna
Peter Carsenna

Details, details...

Politicians and public radio reporters shouldn't be bothered with actual facts when burnishing reputations is the goal.

I sure am glad we have so-called yellow journalists (like Westword reporters) to enlighten us when public radio "objectivity" and politician's "spin" get in the way of finding out the truth.

Jeebus Christ
Jeebus Christ

Excel is a spreadsheet. Xcel is an energy company.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

If you read the previous post on the subject (and actually listened to the report in question) you would know that CPR failed to exercise objectivity at all -- talking about Gessler and letting Gessler speak for himself with absolutely no counterpoint from critics (even the Colorado Supreme Court) included made for a grossly imbalanced, uninformative report.  Do you really believe that public radio is the fount of objectivity?

Peter Carsenna
Peter Carsenna

Robert,

I was being sarcastic. I read the previous post and all of the comments. I also commented myself.

The "theme" of the NPR/CPR piece was "The Power of (State) Secretaries of State." Their "hook" or "peg" is "Colorado's Secretary of State in the news." I agree. In other words, CPR's angle is to concentrate on Gessler as a personality. An expose tied into NPR bigger theme of "power at the state level" serves many purposes. It gives member stations (like KCFR) the impression that NPR actually cares about what happens Colorado (Col-o-RAD-o), it lets member stations contribute stories to the national network, and in the process, it gives public radio listeners in the impression that long-form stories like this one actually reveal something substantive about politics or governance.

I think we both agree that, as you said in your earlier post on the other story, that CPR and NPR fail in many respects when they present stories like this. First of all, most public radio organizations are afraid to take a point of view, even if that point of view is supported by obvious facts. Instead, corporatized public radio (of which CPR and NPR are classic examples) prefers to structure stories "objectively" by giving equal time for "both" or "all" sides to opine -- irrespective of facts. Second, as you note, public radio fears controversy, so by giving equal time, they assure that their bottom line won't be effected by attacking or supporting one side or the other. "Some say this. Others say that." Typical "he/she" said load balancing is the norm in public broadcasting. Third, public radio confuse story length, meticulous production, and methodical, back-and-forth delivery with depth and/or breadth. If the subject matter is important, the delivery urgent, or the guests excited or shrill, then it must indicate poor journalism -- the antithesis of CPR/NPR.

I think public broadcasting thinks its the "fount of objectivity." Clearly it isn't. Or rather, I disagree with public radio's definition of the word "objectivity." NPR critic, Jay Rosen, refers to it as "the view from nowhere," which I think is an apt description. And, a view from nowhere is absolutely useless when serving a public that requires -- demands -- meaningful facts, analysis, and yes -- opinions. NPR and CPR are simply, lazy, elite, incestuous, template-driven organizations that have abdicated their Fourth Estate responsibilities. Expecting better of them is akin to expecting banksters to stop committing fraud.

Respectfully,

Pete

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

A fascinating response, Pete. Thanks for sharing it.

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