Colorado Dems block fraud probe into former governor’s energy office

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Colorado Democrats have blocked Republican efforts to probe more deeply into the Colorado Energy Office’s inability to account for how it spend $252 million in state and federal funds over six years.

Republicans on the Legislative Audit Committee wanted to give the Office of the State Auditor an extra eight hours of research time to dig for evidence of fraud in the energy office after a blistering audit late last year concluded that the agency couldn’t show that any of its programs had been cost-effective.

The audit’s timeframe covered the entirety of former Gov. Bill Ritter’s term in office and the first two years of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s term. Both are Democrats and Ritter told The Daily Caller News Foundation last month that he is on the short list of potential candidates to replace outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) focused on renewable energy initiatives under Ritter, who crafted his legacy around creating a “new energy economy” in Colorado. He parlayed that into a $300,000 per year job as the director of a Colorado State University think-tank called the Center for the New Energy Economy after he left the governor’s office.

Sen. Steve King, a Republican member of the audit committee, said he wanted the state auditor to drill deeper into any possible misuse of funds during the Ritter years.

“The intent here is to look at the Ritter administration,” he said, “and to be assured that there was an appropriate use of taxpayer money.”

When the audit was released in January, Republicans said it vindicated their suspicions that money and energy projects weren’t being handled properly. Now they want a closer look.

“The audit didn’t deal with fraud or waste and I think that is some of the things that I think needs to be delved (into) deeper,” said Republican Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg. “(W)e need to dig into that audit to see indeed if there was fraud, if there was waste, see if the companies that actually were contracted did the work, if they spent money or if they received money that wasn’t utilized, those type of things.”

But the motion to approve the additional time died on a party line vote Tuesday.

Committee Chairwoman Rep. Angela Williams, a Democrat, said it was sufficient that the CEO’s acting director promised changes and to report back to the committee on his progress before the end of the legislative session in May.

Republicans quickly cried foul, accusing the Democrats of playing party politics. Republican Rep. Dan Nordberg pointed out that Democrats were willing to initiate a $100,000 audit of Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who is under both a criminal and ethical investigation for alleged misuse of $5,000 in public funds, “but when it comes to the misuse of more than $250 million, the Democrats refused to allow eight hours of additional investigation.”

“That’s absurd,” he said. “We have a responsibility to dig deeper and ensure we are responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

His statement was included in a press release jointly issued by all the Republicans on the Legislative Audit Committee.

“The audit committee is a decidedly non-partisan committee, so the fact that we can’t look further into $252 million of unaccountable spending based on a party-line vote is unacceptable and causes me to question my Democratic colleagues’ commitment to uncovering fraud and waste,” King is quoted as saying.

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