DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper defended himself Thursday against a complaint alleging that he violated the state’s gift ban by accepting freebies at a Democratic governors’ event, insisting that governors have been doing it for years.
“We’ve all done the same thing. We don’t use any state money, we only go there and focus on trying to get good ideas from each other,” Hickenlooper said in his monthly interview with KOA-AM’s Mike Rosen. “There’s plenty of politics. I’m not saying there’s not politics involved, but the priority is the issues.”
Hickenlooper is fighting an ethics complaint filed by the conservative group Compass Colorado accusing him of acting improperly by allowing the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) to pick up the tab for him and his staff at its August conference in Aspen.
“My gosh—I mean, Gov. [Bill] Owens did this for the Republican Governors Association, Gov. [Bill] Ritter did it for the Democratic Governors Association, John Suthers, our attorney general, went to the Republican Attorneys General [meeting],” Hickenlooper said.
The difference is that Amendment 41, the 2006 measure passed by voters that bans gifts exceeding $53 per year, wasn’t around when Owens was elected in 1998. Ritter was elected in 2006 and served until January 2011.
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) is weighing a request by the governor’s attorneys to dismiss the complaint. The panel’s next hearing on the issue is at 9 a.m. Monday.
If the commission does rule against him, Hickenlooper said the irony is that it could prevent his staff from working to bring the 2016 Republican National Convention to Denver.
“If something like this holds up, which I can’t believe, but if something like this holds up, it would imply that I can’t have my staff work on trying to bring the Republican National Convention,” said Hickenlooper.
Among the allegations against Hickenlooper is that he used state staff to help him prepare for the DGA event, which was also a fundraiser for Democrats. The three-day conference raised $840,000, according to a report obtained by the Denver Post.
The report also found that the DGA covered the $1,779 charge for the governor’s room, along with rooms for policy director Alan Salazar and chief of staff Roxane White at $1,066 apiece. In addition, the organization picked up the $10,000 attendance fee for Hickenlooper, who served as the event’s host.
“[W]e’ve been working very hard to try and bring the Republican Convention, and I’ve been having staff work on it. There’s probably going to be an ethics complaint about this,” Hickenlooper said. “I’m not sure which party will make the complaint because it’s hard to see where the self-interest is.”
Created by Amendment 41 to oversee ethics violations, the commission has become a vehicle for attacks on politicians, mainly Republicans.
Last year, the IEC found that Secretary of State Scott Gessler acted unethically when he attended a Republican National Lawyers Association meeting, even though he didn’t accept gifts and paid for the trip out of his office petty-cash fund.
Rosen called the Gessler complaint, which was filed by the liberal group Colorado Ethics Watch, a case of “penny-ante pettiness.”
Hickenlooper’s attorneys have argued that the governor is exempted from the gift ban because he gave consideration by serving on DGA panels and hosting the event.