Let’s just say there were no gasps of surprise here at Cheap Seats when the Independent Ethics Commission voted Thursday to admonish Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
From the start, the commission’s decision to twist its mandate beyond all recognition in order to punish the Republican Gessler has been a tawdry government witch-hunt reminiscent of the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party groups.
As Gessler pointed out after the ruling, two of the five commissioners were contributors to the campaigns of his Democratic opponents in past elections. Yet the commissioners felt no need to recuse themselves from deciding whether Gessler had engaged in unethically partisan behavior during the course of his public service.
The irony is thick–but also completely lost on the commission, which voted to chide Gessler for using his office’s discretionary funds to attend a Republican Secretaries of State conference in Florida in August 2012.
The complaint was filed by Colorado Ethics Watch, a left-wing attack group.
The commission agreed to hear the complaint even though the panel was established in 2006 to rule on cases stemming from the passage of Amendment 41, which forbids public officials from accepting gifts of more than $50.
Note that Gessler was never accused of accepting gifts. The commission ruled Thursday that he had inappropriately used his discretionary account to pay for a trip to Florida to attend a Republican Secretaries of State conference in August 2012.
Gessler recently repaid $1,278 for the trip while insisting that the conference was educational and thus an allowable expense. The commission also slapped his hand for taking $117.99 from his account without providing receipts.
The total dollar amount involved in these transgressions? Less than $2,000. Meanwhile, the cost of the ethics investigation and staff time through April had reached $62,000, with another $81,000 for Gessler’s defense, according to estimates from the Denver Post.
Those are your taxpayer dollars at work, folks. For Gessler’s political enemies, however, it was money well spent, given that it delivers a “black eye” (in the words of the Associated Press) to the up-and-coming Republican as he contemplates a bid for the 2014 GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Whether Gessler runs for reelection or for governor, we at Cheap Seats trust Colorado voters will be able to see past the partisan agendas involved in the complaint and give him the fair hearing he deserves.