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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper lays out his plans for the next state legislative session at a news conference in his office at the Capitol in Denver Dec. 19, 2013. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking) Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper lays out his plans for the next state legislative session at a news conference in his office at the Capitol in Denver Dec. 19, 2013. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)  

Colorado Democratic governor faces ethics probe

An ethics investigation opened into Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is accused of wrongly allowing the Democratic Governor’s Association to pay for his expenses at a conference in Aspen last year.

Conservative group Compass Colorado filed the complaint with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission last year, alleging that by allowing the group to pay for his attendance costs, Hickenlooper violated a state amendment preventing elected officials from taking gifts valued at more than $53.

During a procedural hearing Monday, Hickenlooper’s attorneys argued he did nothing wrong and that the expenses — $350 for the attendance fee and $425 per night in a hotel for two nights – are exempted under the amendment.

The law only prohibits gifts of more than $53 if the person making the contribution isn’t getting something of equal or greater value in return.

“The measure of benefit received by the DGA — in terms of the conference participation and policy expertise shared by its governor members — in return for the DGA’s provision of hotel accommodations to them makes the calculation of adequate consideration not even a close call,” Jack Finlaw, Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel, argued in a letter to the commission sent in December.

Moreover, as a member of the DGA, Hickenlooper wasn’t required to pay the $350 attendance fee, Finlaw wrote.

Even some Republicans have called the complaint frivolous politicking.

“This is really stupid,” said Mike Beasley, a lobbyist who was once a staffer for Republican Gov. Bill Owens, in comments to the Denver Post when the complaint was first filed last year. “We need to stop this stuff. Not everything should be political football.”

But the complaint alleges that the trip doesn’t qualify for an exemption under the law because the DGA “accepts more than 5 percent of its funding from for-profit entities.”

“The trip further does not qualify as a gift to the state,” the complaint reads. “The governor was not invited as an ex-officio, but rather because he is a Democrat.”

“DGA funding of this event was a pass-through for corporate donations,” the compliant continued. “This type of influence peddling is prohibited by the intent and plain language of the Colorado Constitution.”

Compass Colorado is also upset that Hickenlooper’s lawyers were allowed to review draft copies of the ethics investigator’s report.

“A critical aspect of any hearing process is allowing both sides equal access to material information,” said executive director Kelly Maher, in a statement posted Monday on the Compass Colorado website. “The fact the Governor’s counsel has reviewed drafts of the investigator’s report not once, but twice, when we have yet to see it at all certainly elevates our curiosity about the drafts’ contents and raises concerns about the transparency of this process.”

The ethic panel will deliberate the matter on April 14.

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