Commissioner Bill Pinkham, who voted April 14 with the 4-1 majority to snuff the complaint filed by Compass Colorado, said Monday he attended the Hickenlooper fundraiser April 23 in his official capacity as Estes Park mayor.
“I attended in my role as mayor because I do that sort of thing,” said Pinkham. “Basically what happened is that my wife and I had a nice dinner, and I showed up just as the governor left.”
Pinkham also said that he didn’t know about the fundraiser at the time of the vote, but his attendance at the event has fueled the already widespread perception among conservatives that the commission’s dismissal of the Hickenlooper complaint was driven by politics.
“Sadly, we are not surprised that Commissioner Pinkham would host a fundraiser for the governor while sitting in judgment over an ethics complaint concerning Hickenlooper,” said Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert in a statement. “Such political partisan activity has been par for the course for commissioners who are supposed to be ‘independent.’ This underscores what we have been saying about the corruption of the commission.”
The fundraiser, sponsored by Stanley Hotel owner John Cullen, was held after Hickenlooper, Pinkham and Cullen participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the $15 million Estes Park Medical Center/Anschutz Wellness Training Center.
“I host when the governor shows up. When the governor shows up, I am a host for the town. I’m a participant at ribbon cuttings when we open roads,” said Pinkham. “I was not a host for the fundraiser. I represent the town in my role as mayor.”
Pinkham’s name is not listed on the invitation to the fundraiser, but his spokeswoman Kate Rusch said in an email Friday, “Mayor Pinkham was a host of the event.”
Staiert said she was unaware of protocols suggesting that mayors attend candidate fundraisers located within their city borders.
“I didn’t know mayors randomly attended fundraising events,” said Staiert. “I’ve never heard that in 20 years of representing local government. Attendance equates to support.”
Peg Perl, staff counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, said she was unfamiliar with the Pinkham situation, “but I would say if the facts played out that a sitting commissioner was involved in fundraising for someone who was appearing in front of them, we would find that problematic and a conflict of interest.”
Pinkham said that he only learned that Hickenlooper would be in Estes Park after the commission voted to dismiss the Hickenlooper complaint.
“At that point I didn’t even know that he was coming up [to Estes Park],” said Pinkham. “I want to say that we got word probably the Friday before he showed up. I mean, the whole thing was up in the air in terms of whether he was coming, when he was going to be coming, what the deal was, the timetable.”
Pinkham said that he did not write a check to the Hickenlooper reelection campaign at the fundraiser. The suggested donation was $250, with a minimum of $100 per person, according to the invitation.
Three of the other four ethics commissioners donated to Hickenlooper’s 2010 run for governor: Bill Bacon, William Leone and Rosemary Marshall.
Even so, the commissioners rejected a request from Compass Colorado to send the Hickenlooper complaint to a neutral administrative law judge, noting that they did not sit on the panel when they made their campaign contributions.
The only commissioner who voted against dismissing the complaint was Matt Smith, who said he needed more information. Smith has not donated to the Hickenlooper campaign.
The complaint alleged that Hickenlooper violated ethics rules by accepting free room, board and registration fees for himself and his staff at last year’s Democratic Governors Association meeting in Aspen.
The commissioners said that Hickenlooper had provided sufficient consideration for an exemption from the gift ban by hosting and speaking at the conference, and that the roughly seven hours of staff time used to prepare for the event was minimal.
In addition, Colorado law carves out a unique role for the governor that gives him “certain special privileges related to travel that are unavailable to other elected officials,” said Leone at the April 14 meeting.
Last year, the commission fined Secretary of State Scott Gessler for using his discretionary account to participate in a Republican National Lawyers Association meeting. Critics have argued that the complaints against Gessler and Hickenlooper were similar, and that the commission relied on a double standard in order to dismiss the complaint against the governor.