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Globetrotting former Colo. official may chair Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

A recent report that a former Public Utilities Commissioner may be a candidate to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission raised eyebrows in Colorado among those who remember him as a globetrotter who seemed to have no problem accepting lavish trips from those connected to the energy industry.

Ron Binz, who served on the Colorado PUC from 2007-11, was investigated by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission during his last year in office for letting an energy analysis company pay for his travel to speak at an event in Houston.

The commission found that although he didn’t personally benefit from having the trip paid for, he nevertheless violated a law forbidding state employees from accepting money or gifts in excess of $50.

And the state auditor found that Binz and his fellow commissioners “did not consistently follow State Fiscal Rules or Department policies related to state travel.”

“In the 3½ years from June 2007 through November 2010, Binz spent about 200 days on the road,” Denver Post editorial page editor Vincent Carroll wrote on Tuesday, after Binz was mentioned as a contender for the FERC chairmanship in a Politico article.

“As I summarized his junketeering shortly thereafter … Binz spent the equivalent of at least one in four workdays at conferences, jetting to Greece, Jordan, Santa Monica, San Diego, Santa Fe, Whitefish (Mont.), Las Vegas, Hawaii, San Francisco, Amelia Island (Fla.), Park City, Seattle, Austin, Los Angeles, and numerous other hardship outposts.”

“If Binz could leverage this sort of eye-popping travel from a mere state regulatory post,” Carroll wrote, “imagine what exotic opportunity might await him as chairman of a commission with national duties.”

Binz’s passport-filling itineraries came to light through 3,600 pages of public records obtained by Affordable Reliable Energy Colorado, a political nonprofit aligned with coal and other energy companies. Its analysis showed that Binz spent 30 percent more time on the road in 2010 than the PUC’s two other commissioners, tallying a travel tab in excess of $18,000, more than $15,000 of which was picked up by others.

A 2012 state audit found the PUC lacking in how it approved and documented commissioners’ travel and expressed concerns that all their trips complied with Amendment 41, the law restricting how and when third parties can pay for state employees’ travel. The law was adopted to prevent conflicts of interest and bribery.

“Of the 128 out-of-state trips taken by the Commissioners during Calendar Years 2008 through 2011, 91 were paid for, at least in part, by third parties,” the audit noted. “Without better controls, there is no assurance that these 91 trips, 65 of which cost in total more than $51,000 and 26 of which did not have sufficient documentation to determine the cost of the trips, were for the benefit of the State and compliant with Amendment 41.”