Ethics commission dismisses Hickenlooper complaint

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The Independent Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint against Gov. John Hickenlooper at its meeting Monday.

DENVER — Colorado’s independent ethics commission voted 4-1 Monday to dismiss a complaint from a conservative group alleging that Gov. John Hickenlooper violated a provision of the state constitution’s gift-ban by allowing a Democratic organization pick up his expenses at a conference last year.

The commission also ruled the governor’s limited use of staff time to prepare for the event was not a violation, and mentioned previous court rulings that give governors certain privileges.

Commissioners also said the value of Hickenlooper’s policy expertise shared at the Democratic Governors Association conference, and the hours he spent helping organize it, exceeded what group spent on food and lodging for Hickenlooper.

William Leone, one of the commissioners who considered the complaint, said Hickenlooper “has a legitimate interest as the elected head of the state to present, discuss, debate and hear about policy initiatives that he chooses to advance.”

Leone said that Hickenlooper’s “work to convert and persuade other governors, contributors, constituents, parties affected by his policies” is within the scope of his duties.

Compass Colorado, the conservative group that filed the complaint last year, blasted the Independent Ethics Commission as a partisan organization.

“We are certainly disappointed, but sadly, are not surprised by this ruling.” said Kelly Maher, the group’s executive director. “Apparently, the only thing you need to get a pass from the IEC in Colorado is a ‘D’ behind your name.”

The panel is made up of two Democrats, two Republicans and one unaffiliated voter; although three of the members donated to Hickenlooper’s campaign, Maher noted.

“This is like four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner,” Maher said.

Throughout the case, comparisons were made to the complaint filed against Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who billed the state to attend a GOP lawyers conference in Florida while attending the Republican National Convention in August 2012.

Commissioners differed on whether the cases overlap, but Republicans argue it’s the same violation in question, while Democrats believe the cases are different.

Gessler released a statement slamming the IEC for its ruling Monday.

“We’ve seen the devastating effects of the IRS treating conservative groups more harshly because of their political viewpoint and now we’re seeing it close to home with the Ethics Commission saving its biggest attacks for Republicans,” Gessler said in a statement. “Unfortunately, today’s decision will have a chilling effect on Republican public officials and public servants, who now know that Hickenlooper plays by a different set of rules.

“I took great pains to comply with the state’s gift ban by using my discretionary account rather than accepting a gift over the allowed amount. Instead, the Ethics Commission now says that Democrats can accept gifts seven times the amount I used. The people of Colorado have no faith in this partisan commission. The commissioners are already financially invested in Hickenlooper’s success and so people shouldn’t be surprised with today’s decision—just saddened by it.”

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