DENVER—To nobody’s surprise, Colorado Ethics Watch called for a criminal investigation Monday into the activities of a Republican, in this case Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
CEW alleges that Gessler violated state law by using public funds in August to attend a Republican National Lawyers Association conference in Sarasota, Fla., after which he dropped by the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
The group filed an ethics complaint at the same time with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.
“Ethics Watch believes the Secretary’s Florida trip was manifestly personal and political, in which he participated only in partisan events, not in pursuit of state business,” said CEW executive director Luis Toro. “Between law enforcement and the state Ethics Commission, we expect a thorough investigation of this important public corruption case.”
There is more than a little irony at the specter of CEW levying accusations of partisanship, given that the non-profit, allegedly non-partisan organization targets Republicans and conservatives almost exclusively in its strongly worded letters.
The group’s one-sided scrutiny is particularly obvious in this case because the Gessler complaint comes shortly after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar allowed his title to be used as part of an appearance at an Oct. 5 political rally sponsored by the Montrose County Democratic Party, a trip paid by the taxpayers.
You’d think the steely-eyed ethics investigators at CEW would be more concerned about a potential violation of the Hatch Act by a sitting cabinet secretary than whether Gessler attended a seminar on campaign law run by Republican lawyers, but you would be wrong.
When it comes to ethics violations, CEW’s outrage is highly selective and rarely if ever directed at Democrats or liberals, a telling factoid that we can only hope will one day result in the group getting a taste of its own medicine in the form of an Internal Revenue Service investigation.
In the meantime, Gessler has denied that he used state funds for improper purposes, insisting that the RNLA meeting was educational and that most if not all of the courses were eligible for continuing legal education credit.
“It’s legitimate business that helps me do my job as Secretary of State better. It’s very educational,” Gessler said last week. “It’s taught by leading practitioners in the election-law field. I attended the entire conference. Every bit of it had CLE credit, to my understanding. It’s accredited as an educational course.”
While the secretary’s attendance at Republican events draws media attention, Gessler spokesman Rich Coolidge noted that he also participates in events sponsored by left-leaning groups, including recent meetings sponsored by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.
Gessler said he bases his decisions on which events to attend on “if it’s substance, if you’re learning things that help you do your job better.”
“I think the worst thing a Secretary of State or any public official can do is squat in this office and now and then go and meet with government officials who stay in their offices,” said Gessler. “If you’re not out talking to people and talking to experts and practitioners and knowing what’s coming down the road, you’re not doing as good of a job as you can.”
He acknowledged that he was reimbursed an additional $422 to fly back a day early after his office received death threats against his wife and daughter.
In Monday’s statement, CEW officials noted that they had sent letters to Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and the Denver Police Department calling for a probe into Gessler’s use of public funds.
No word on whether CEW will be following up with a similar request in the Salazar matter.