DENVER– A scathing audit of the Colorado Energy Office left questions of fraud unanswered – but Democrat members of the Legislative Audit Committee flatly rejected Republicans’ request for a follow up investigation into the green energy entity.
“The Audit committee is a decidedly nonpartisan committee, so the fact that we can’t look further into $252 million of unaccountable spending based on a party line vote is unacceptable,” said Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction).
“(That) causes me to question my Democratic colleagues’ commitment to uncovering fraud and waste,” declared King, vice chair of the Legislative Audit Committee.
King asked the committee Tuesday to grant eight hours to the state Auditor to reassess targeted CEO records from 2007 to 2012, the same period that resulted in a stinging audit report in January.
“The state Auditor has the ability and talent to do that and report back to the committee that either there was fraud and waste of taxpayer dollars or not,” said King.
A six-month evaluation of the CEO concluded the documentation of money received and awarded to contractors was so lacking that the state Auditor “could not determine the total cost or the total amount spent for any of the (34) programs it administered.”
King said the audit validated rumors that the CEO had operated as “the governor’s slush fund” under former Gov. Bill Ritter.
“It was a terrible audit that came out of the Colorado Energy Office,” agreed state Sen. Lois Tochtrop (D-Thornton), but she suggested that committee members take a wait-and-see position.
“They assured us that they were going to come back with a lot of answers,” said Tochtrop.
But the committee did not request that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff Kevin Patterson, interim director of the CEO, answer questions about potential fraud and waste over the past five years.
Earlier this month, Patterson was only asked to give a 15-minute progress report in April on the implementation of organizational and accounting recommendations made by the state Auditor.
Though Democrat committee members entertained King’s request for a deeper audit, they drew a line in the sand against probing CEO’s financial records under Hickenlooper. But, an audit of the office under Ritter’s administration would be fair game.
“To clarify, this is to look into the previous administration, correct?” asked committee chair state Rep. Angela Williams (D-Denver). “Only look at the (records) under the previous administration.”
The CEO was created to promote energy conservation and independence in 1977, but revised its mission to focus on green energy under Ritter. Last year, Hickenlooper expanded energy resource to include “all of the above” – oil, natural gas and coal.
However, Hickenlooper’s energy office has continued to reject other energy resources such as capturing and recycling methane gas leaking from coal mines as a low-cost source as well as utilizing a similar process at landfills.
Both sources of alternative fuels are endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency because they also achieve the purpose of preventing dangerous air toxins. But, these sources are not green enough according to Patterson and Democrats in the legislature.
As for the audit of the governor’s CEO, state Rep. Su Ryden (D-Aurora) said she didn’t see the point and asked, “What else would be audited?”
“That audit didn’t deal with fraud and waste,” declared state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling).
Because of missing and incomplete records, the original audit could not verify that companies, which received financial incentives, had actually performed the contracted work.
“It seems like we should apply consistent rules here,” said state Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) who recalled the committee had rejected a request in January to audit the discretionary fund of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, the subject of an ethics complaint and criminal investigation.
Democrats Tochtrop and state Sen. Lucia Guzman of Denver agreed with Hill, but they seemed to forget that audit request failed on a 4-4 vote split on party lines. Democrats voted for it; Republicans opposed it.
The eight-hour audit of CEO also failed on a 4-4 vote but in reverse positions – Republicans said aye; Democrats nay.
“Democrats were willing to spend $100,000 to audit a $5,000 discretionary fund, but when it comes to misuse of more than $250 million, the Democrats refused to allow eight hours of additional investigation,” said state Rep. Dan Nordberg (R-Colorado Springs). “That’s absurd.”
King had asked the Democrats to approve the audit for the sake of transparency and accountability to taxpayers who the legislature serves.
“We all share the responsibility of transparency and accountability,” said Williams, admonishing Eagle-Net Alliance that appeared 10 minutes before the CEO audit debate.
“There’s accountability here in the state of Colorado to businesses and constituents that we serve,” declared Williams.