Stranger Than Fiction: Gessler Defends Hick in Ethics Complaint

March 12, 2014
By
Secretary of State Scott Gessler

Secretary of State Scott Gessler

DENVER — If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then that may explain why Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler is defending Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper as he goes before the Independent Ethics Commission (IEC).

Gessler attorney Mike Davis asked to file an amicus brief in support of Hickenlooper at Monday’s commission meeting, arguing that the complaint lodged against Hickenlooper bears a strong resemblance to the one filed two years ago against Gessler.

“Mike expressed our position that the facts in this case are the same as the facts in the Gessler case, and that because of that . . . we believe the IEC does not have the jurisdiction to go forward with the case,” said Gessler spokesman Andrew Cole.

Gessler, who’s running for the GOP nomination to challenge Hickenlooper in this year’s gubernatorial race, has long argued that the IEC got it wrong when it found that he “breached the public trust” when he flew on the state’s dime to Tampa for a Republican National Lawyers Association conference.

At the same time, Republicans are watching the five-member commission closely to see how it handles the Hickenlooper complaint, given its similarities to the Gessler matter. The governor is accused of violating the state’s gift ban by accepting room and board for himself and his staff last year at a Democratic Governors Association conference (DGA) in Aspen.

Attorneys for Hickenlooper have entered a motion to dismiss the complaint, which was filed last year by the conservative group Compass Colorado. The IEC is expected to rule on the motion at its March 31 meeting.

Compass Colorado attorney Alex Hornaday said he expects to file a response against the motion by Friday.

“Our position is that this DGA conference was both a fundraiser and an opportunity for special interests to have access to the governor,” said Hornaday. “The use of state resources, in this case staff time, to help prepare for and even help organize that event is inappropriate, and it appears by the IEC’s own precedent on similar questions that they would find it inappropriate.”

The governor’s attorneys argue that Hickenlooper’s extensive participation in the conference, including his role as host, emcee and panelist, means that he met the criteria for an exemption from the state’s ethics rules.

“Because the governor provided the DGA with consideration that exceeded the value of the lodging and meals he received, there was no gift as that term is defined in Article XXIX,” said the governor’s motion.

Meanwhile, Democrats on the House “kill committee” voted Monday to defeat a bill aimed at reforming the IEC, which critics have described as a vehicle for muddying the reputations of public officials for partisan gain.

If Gessler is permitted to file an amicus brief, then Colorado Ethics Watch (CEW) would presumably be able to do so. The liberal watchdog group filed the 2012 complaint against Gessler.

Luis Toro, CEW executive director, said in an email he had “no plans to participate in that proceeding.”

Compass Colorado executive director Kelly Maher declined to comment on Gessler’s attempt to file the amicus brief.

While Compass Colorado may be less than thrilled with the secretary’s effort to defend Hickenlooper, it could be the right move for Gessler, who has become the IEC’s most dogged critic and continues to fight its decision.

“The purpose is to point out that it’s the same situation, and that they made the wrong decision in the Gessler case,” said Cole. “Best not to make another wrong decision, and again go outside the jurisdiction and violate the rights of another public official.”

Cole noted that Gessler has appealed the IEC’s ruling in Denver District Court. “There’s no doubt that why we’re interested in this is because we’re in court appealing the IEC decision,” said Cole. “It’s in the context of us still trying to prove the point that the IEC took the wrong action in the secretary’s case.”

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