Hick Hit by Ethics Complaint Over Trip to Democrat Event

October 3, 2013
An ethics complaint has been filed against Gov. John Hickenlooper alleging that the Democrat improperly used public funds and violated the state’s gift ban

An ethics complaint alleges that Hickenlooper improperly used public funds and violated the state’s gift ban

DENVER—An ethics complaint has been filed against Gov. John Hickenlooper alleging that he improperly used public funds and violated the state’s gift ban in July when he attended a Democratic conference in Aspen.

Compass Colorado, the conservative advocacy group that filed the complaint Tuesday, said in a statement that a hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 18 before the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.

“Governor Hickenlooper should pay his own bar tab,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado, in the statement. “While Coloradans struggle, our governor is wasting hard-earned taxpayer funds on political events and self-promotion.”

The complaint contends that Hickenlooper crossed the line during his July 12-14 trip to the Democratic Governors Association meeting at Aspen’s St. Regis hotel.

While billed as a policy conference, the event was hosted by a pro-Democrat group whose mission is “self-described as helping support Democratic governors and candidates across the country,” said Compass Colorado.

The DGA bills itself on its website as an “independent voluntary political organization organized to support Democratic governors and candidates across the nation.”

“[T]he trip would not qualify for any exemptions from the law because of the political nature of the event,” said the Compass Colorado statement. “Governor Hickenlooper was invited to the event not as an elected official, but rather, as a Democrat.”

Colorado law prohibits public officials from accepting more than $53 in gifts, but the complaint says the cost of the conference was $350 per person and $425 for a two-night hotel stay. The event included two full open-bar receptions, two luncheons, a breakfast and a “closed-door dinner at a private five-star events center.”

That doesn’t include the state staff costs associated with organizing the trip and traveling to Aspen. The event was attended by both state and campaign staff, according to the complaint.

“Using taxpayer funds to plan, travel and attend a partisan conference is a breach of public trust and is below the office to which Hickenlooper was elected,” said Maher. “Our governor attended events for free, which exceeded Colorado’s public official gift ban limit by hundreds of dollars.”

It’s the second ethics complaint filed this year against Hickenlooper. An unrelated matter filed in July by Grassroots Radio talk-show host Jason Worley centered on the governor’s use of the state plane to give a ride to a political supporter, Ken Gart, who accompanied Hickenlooper to a bike race in Durango.

Worley said he recently received a letter saying that his complaint had been dismissed as frivolous. “There was no explanation,” he said. “I just think there’s no interest in looking into anything involving Gov. Hickenlooper at all.”

Jane Feldman, commission executive director, said she could not comment on the outcome of that complaint. The commission has the option to dismiss complaints as frivolous or direct staff to investigate.

“When people file complaints, unless or until the commission makes the decision to go forward, I cannot comment as to whether the complaint was filed,” said Feldman. “When complaints do not go forward, we cannot comment.”

The governor’s office could not be reached immediately for comment.

The Compass Colorado complaint bears some similarities with one filed last year against Secretary of State Scott Gessler. That matter, filed by liberal advocacy group Colorado Ethics Watch, raised objections to Gessler’s use of his office discretionary fund to attend the Republican National Lawyers Association conference in Tampa, Fla.

The five-member commission ruled in June against Gessler, concluding that he “breached the public trust for private gain,” even though the secretary argued that the trip was a legitimate official expense and reimbursed the office fund before the panel’s ruling.

The Republican Gessler also accused the commission of engaging in a partisan smear, noting that two of the commissioners had contributed to his political opponent in previous campaigns.

“If anyone other than Scott Gessler was treated this way, the left’s attack machine would be up in arms,” said Gessler spokesman Andrew Cole at the time.

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