Two high-powered law firms are representing the Douglas County School District and its fundraising arm in separate allegations of improper campaign-related activity in the contentious school-board race.
The Douglas County Educational Foundation has retained Holland and Hart to represent it in parent Susan Arnold’s complaint filed Oct. 14 with the Internal Revenue Service. The complaint alleges political campaigning and deceptive and improper fundraising practices by the foundation, the district’s nonprofit fundraising arm.
An attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck indicated Oct. 25 that he will represent DCSD in school board candidate Julie Keim’s recent complaint of alleged campaign and political finance violations.
“The fact that they’ve lawyered up on both sides is interesting,” said Keim, one of four candidates challenging the direction of the current school board. “They’re using district resources to defend themselves against a complaint that they’re using district resources. It’s a little vicious cycle, isn’t it?”
School board vice president Kevin Larsen said the decision to hire outside legal counsel is logical.
“Any time a legal complaint is filed against the school district we will employ reasonable measures to protect ourselves,” he said. “(Keim’s) meritless claims will ultimately have little to show other than the loss of district time and resources.”
Holland and Hart, whose 440 attorneys in 15 Rocky Mountain-area offices specialize in business and corporate law, is helping defend the foundation against “vicious attacks,” according to Cinamon Watson, DCEF interim executive director and the district's community relations officer.
District spokespeople did not respond to questions from Colorado Community Media about when the firms had been hired and their rate of compensation.
Holland and Hart “has reviewed compliance and given DCEF a clean bill of health,” Watson wrote in an email.
“Individuals involved in the board of education elections have attacked everything from outstanding achievement results to raising dollars for the annual school supply drive,” Watson wrote. “After filing a frivolous IRS complaint against the Douglas County Educational Foundation, they are now complaining about the fact that we have an attorney to defend ourselves from these vicious attacks.
“These attacks have cost the foundation time and money and taken away from the great work DCEF does for our schools, students, and teachers.”
Arnold, parent Stefania Scott and former DCEF chairman Bob Kaser’s concerns about the foundation are multi-pronged, but center around the Douglas County School District’s late September acknowledgment that it used DCEF donations to pay consultants. Those consultants — including former U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett and the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess — indicated support for the district’s education reforms through published papers and a public appearance in September.
Kaser said the foundation’s failure to turn over meeting minutes and other information underscores those concerns.
“The only reason there are perceptions, or misperceptions, about the activities of the DCEF is due to the lack of transparency,” he said. “I challenge them to replace these with the facts and full disclosure.”
Keim’s Oct. 17 complaint alleges the school district is not providing all candidates with the same information, and that its resources are helping a host of individuals and organizations actively support pro-board candidates — Judi Reynolds, Jim Geddes and incumbents Doug Benevento and Meghann Silverthorn — with campaign materials and advertisements.