It must be frustrating to be a liberal hack. You work hard to perfect an ambush tactic against Republicans, it works like a charm–and then conservatives figure it out and start using it against Democrats. At least, that’s how we’d sum up the current debacle over the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.
The conservative group Colorado Compass filed an ethics complaint Oct. 1 against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper for attending the Democratic Governors Association meeting on the cheap. Instead of paying full price, he received a waiver of the $350 attendance fee and free lodging at the swanky Aspen St. Regis.
We have no problem with Hick saving the state a few bucks, but unfortunately for the governor, Democratic Rep. Jared Polis does. Polis, you’ll recall, was the sponsor of Amendment 41, the 2006 initiative that prohibits public officials from accepting gifts of $50 or more.
That’s not a problem for a moneybags like Polis, but for the rest of the working stiffs in Colorado government, Amendment 41 has become a major headache. First Amendment 41 nixed the daily bagel breakfast for the state legislature, and now it threatens to give Hickenlooper a political black eye going into the 2014 election.
Irate Hick spokesman Eric Brown told the Denver Post that the complaint was “motivated 100 percent by people playing political games.”
We wonder where Brown was when the same “political game” was being played against Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Surely Brown must have noticed when liberal attack-dog Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint against Gessler after he attended the 2012 Republican National Lawyers Association Convention in Tampa, Fla.
In fact, media outlets throughout the state diligently covered the Gessler ethics saga from start to finish, which is why we were a little surprised when only one media outlet—that would be TCO—did a story about the Hickenlooper complaint.
Gessler was ultimately found guilty of “betraying the public trust for private gain” and slapped with a $2,794 fine, roughly double the cost of his $1,400 conference trip, which he paid for with his office’s discretionary fund.
Here’s Hick’s dilemma: The Independent Ethics Commission, which was established by Amendment 41 to enforce the gift ban, says nothing about officeholders using public funds for trips, conferences, etc. Nobody ever accused Gessler of accepting an improper gift, yet the commission dinged him anyway.
From what we know of the Hickenlooper complaint, however, the governor did accept a gift in the form of an attendance-fee waiver and free lodging. The excuse being offered by his chief legal counsel, Jack Finlaw, is that the freebies were more like an-kind contribution in return for the governor’s “active role in the DGA conference programming,” according to the Post.
Good luck with that. We’re pretty sure there’s no exception in Amendment 41 allowing elected officials to receive goodies in exchange for services rendered.
The real problem is that the IEC made major blunder by agreeing to hear the Gessler complaint, but now the commissioners are stuck with it. If the commission refuses to investigate the Hickenlooper complaint, then everything Gessler said about the commission’s partisan agenda becomes all but impossible to deny.
As long as we’re laying blame, let’s give a shout-out to Colorado Ethics Watch, which started the cycle and generated months of invaluable anti-Gessler publicity with its politically motivated complaint. Hickenlooper can thank CEW for creating the monster that now threatens to turn on one of the Democratic Party’s own.