Ethics Panel Says Gessler Can’t Spend Public Funds on RNLA, But Deputy Can

July 29, 2014

Scott Gessler

Scott Gessler

DENVER—It’s apparently okay for public officials to use state funds to attend the Republican National Lawyers Association meeting, as long as they’re not Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

That’s how Gessler is interpreting the Independent Ethics Commission’s decision last week to allow Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert to attend the RNLA conference in August on the state’s dime—a year after he was rebuked for doing the same thing.

The commission ruled last year that Gessler had “breached the public trust for private gain” after he spent $1,400 from his office discretionary fund to attend the 2012 RNLA meeting in Tampa. Gessler has appealed the ruling, but the damage to his political career has been done.

Gessler lost his bid for the Republican nomination for governor in June, and while he says the hit to his reputation resulting from the IEC ruling wasn’t the only reason, it certainly didn’t help.

“It shows you just how incredibly partisan and biased they were in 2012,” said Gessler. “The IEC chooses political winners and losers. It’s partisan driven, and now that I’m no longer a candidate for public office, they’re willing to come to different conclusions than they did before.”

The IEC also approved last week Gessler’s request to accept free registration, travel and lodging from the RNLA to participate in this year’s meeting in Las Vegas. Gessler submitted the request in April, shortly after the commission ruled that Gov. John Hickenlooper had broken no ethics rules by having his expenses paid by the Democratic Governors Association last year at its meeting in Aspen.

Those who say the commission acted evenhandedly by allowing the RNLA to pay Gessler’s costs and the DGA to cover Hickenlooper’s are missing the point, says the secretary.

“Everyone’s looking at the key as being me versus Hickenlooper, but the real key in my view is how they treated me versus how they treated Suzanne Staiert,” said Gessler. “Because it is government money being used to send a government employee to the National Republican Lawyers Association. With her, it’s okay. With me, it’s not.”

Having said that, Gessler is still floored by the commission’s decision to dismiss the complaint against Hickenlooper, noting that the DGA is a primarily partisan organization that spent nearly $400,000 attacking Republican Bob Beauprez during this year’s GOP gubernatorial primary.

“How is it that Hickenlooper can get an all-expense-paid trip to the Democratic Governors Association, with people who are making political contributions to the DGA so that the DGA can beat up his opponents?” said Gessler. “They beat up Bob Beauprez. And yet I can’t go to an accredited legal seminar that’s directly relevant to my office’s duties?”

The IEC approved by a 3-2 vote Staiert’s request to spend roughly $750 in state money to accompany Gessler at the RNLA meeting, as well as devote about 30 hours of staff time to preparing him for his speech.

“[I]t appears that the use of state resources for the Deputy Secretary’s attendance at this event is a legitimate expenditure,” said the IEC’s July 23 advisory opinion.

The chair of the Federal Election Commission is slated to attend the Aug. 10-11 event, and his guidance “alone may be very valuable in aiding her office [to] reduce its legal expenditures related to election law litigation.”

“Moreover, the description of the event as set forth on the RNLA’s website to include topics such as ballot access of a candidate (or referendum committee), protecting the integrity of the election day process, the redrawing or the consolidation of election precincts and the administration and counting of absentee ballots all pertain to the statutory duties allotted to the Secretary and, via his authorization, the Deputy Secretary,” said the opinion.

Of course, said Gessler, the same could have been said of his attendance at the 2012 RNLA conference.

Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, which filed the complaint against Gessler, said the secretary should accept the IEC’s ruling against him and drop his appeal.

“All the government-funded spin in the world won’t change the fact that Scott Gessler still owes a fine imposed by a unanimous ethics commission that found he abused the public trust for private gain,” said Toro in an email. “He needs to pay the fine and stop wasting even more taxpayer money on endless, futile appeals.”

Gessler’s not a big fan of CEW, calling the non-profit organization “100 percent politically motivated” against Republicans.

“They didn’t file a complaint against Hickenlooper. In fact, they’ve never ever filed a complaint against a Democrat, except they filed a complaint against [Denver District Attorney] Mitch Morrissey because they were angry that he didn’t prosecute a Republican,” said Gessler. “They have never, ever, ever filed anything against a Democrat or a Democrat-leaning group.”

While the rigmarole left Gessler with a black eye, the IEC hasn’t escaped unscathed. Critics have accused the panel of bias for ruling in favor of Hickenlooper, noting that three of the five commissioners contributed to his last campaign and one attended his fundraiser shortly after the ruling.

“They [commissioners] have no credibility. None,” said Gessler. “The only credibility they have is as a group that will reliably defend a Democratic governor.”

Comments made by visitors are not representative of The Colorado Observer staff.

2 Responses to Ethics Panel Says Gessler Can’t Spend Public Funds on RNLA, But Deputy Can

  1. Billy Rubin
    July 29, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Luis Toro…now there’s an honest broker, huh?!

  2. Samin
    July 30, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Ethics watch, the non-partisan, never filed against a democrat group. If this was about policy or a political stand I could stomach it, but this was personal. Going after his “ethics” for attending a conference is beyond disgusting. Then one year later they demonstrate their total hypocrisy. Toro and the commissioners should be in jail for these mafia like practices.


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