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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)  

New questions raised in Hickenlooper ethics probe

An independent investigator hired for an ethics probe into Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has questioned his truthfulness.

Conservative group Compass Colorado alleged that Hickenlooper broke the rules against accepting gifts when the Democratic Governors Association paid for him and several staffers to attend a conference in Aspen last year.

In a draft report to the commission which was obtained and first reported by the Denver Post, investigator Bill McBean questioned Hickenlooper’s assertion that “one or more staff members accompanied the governor at all times at the conference,” noting that only Hickenlooper was present at a dinner meeting of top lobbyists; the governors of Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington; and business leaders in the energy industry.

“Our investigation indicates that statement probably isn’t true,” McBean wrote.

The DGA paid more than $1,700 for Hickenlooper’s hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton; $1,066 each for rooms for chief of staff Roxanne White and chief strategy officer Alan Salazar; and $927 for campaign finance director Laura Warren.

The ethics complaint says payment for the hotel rooms violates an ethics rule that prevents elected officials from accepting gifts of more than $53. Hickenlooper’s lawyers have argued that the lodging was exempt from the gift ban because the DGA was getting a greater value in return by having Hickenlooper at the conference.

“When the governor, and two of his fellow chief executives, were left alone with the nation’s top energy executives, one might argue the DGA achieved its goal in paying the governor’s bills,” McBean wrote in his draft report.

However, the Post reported that the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission isn’t considering McBean’s report in deciding whether to proceed with the investigation. Sources told the paper that an assistant attorney general who’d read the report said it had problems and recommended it not be used.

Commissioners are instead relying on transcripts of and audio recordings of interviews McBean conducted.

“The reason for us to use the transcripts is it’s the best evidence of what was said by the witnesses,” commissioner Bill Leone told the Post.

In the report, McBean said his company, Acclaim Investigations, was hired with the instructions not to spend more than 40 hours on the investigation and not to travel to Aspen. He also noted that some of the people he interviewed bristled at the suggestion that the DGA paid Hickenlooper’s bills to give face time to donors. Overall, the DGA raised $840,000 from those who paid to attend.

“Some of those interviewed by Acclaim objected to the insinuation that there was an element of ‘Pay to Play’ in the DGA conference,” he wrote. “The policy element, many said, was of considerable interest.”

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