DENVER — State officials have determined that Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat facing reelection this fall, did nothing wrong when his office questioned the state’s Dept. of Insurance last November over its Obamacare cancellation numbers.
In November, Udall’s deputy chief of staff emailed the Dept. of Insurance, questioning the agency’s estimate that some 250,000 Coloradans had lost their insurance plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act taking effect and asking the agency to revise its number down.
When the emails between Udall and the department went public last week, Republicans pounced, portraying the exchange as an example of the senator “bullying” a state agency for political reasons.
In separate letters Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Marguerite Salazar and Barbara J. Kelley, the executive director of the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies, informed Congressman Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and state Rep. Amy Stephens, one of several GOP candidates looking to challenge Udall later this year, that a fact-finding review “revealed no evidence of any intimidation, and the ‘level of coercion by Senator Udall and/or his staff’ was zero.”
On Monday, Salazar was pressed about the interaction by Republican lawmakers during her own confirmation hearing at the Capitol.
“I characterize this as a heated discussion between two staff people that happens all the time,” Salazar said, trying to downplay the controversy.
Salazar’s letter to Gardner Tuesday reiterated that position.
“Senator Udall’s staff was doing their own research separate and apart from the Division, and brought certain information to our attention, including the fact that carriers were sending notices that included renewal options,” she wrote.
“Moreover, we think the Senator’s efforts were useful.”
Kelley’s letter was addressed to Stephens, who requested a formal review last week.
“There is no information to support an allegation of real (or perceived) intimidation, or inappropriate or undue pressure,” Kelley wrote to Stephens. “There was a disagreement among staff about how to characterize the data. However, the situation was neither received nor acted upon as coercive or intimidating.
“Any characterization as ‘intimidation’ is not supported by the facts.”
Stephens issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon, dismissing the state’s investigation and its findings.
“The Department of Regulatory Agencies can run interference on behalf of Senator Udall and his abusive staff, if it chooses, but the intimidating emails from Udall’s staff speak for themselves,” Stephens said.
“This incident remains unprecedented in Colorado where a United States Senator and his staff attempted to intimidate a state agency to falsify public records to help that Senator’s political agenda.”
Alan Salazar, who used to work for Udall and now serves as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief strategist, responded to news of Stephens’ statement on Twitter like this:
— Alan Salazar (@AlanSalazarCO) January 15, 2014