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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)  

Ethics complaints against Colorado governor dismissed

A Colorado ethics commission dismissed a complaint against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was accused by a conservative group of improperly allowing the Democratic Governors Association to pay for some of the costs associated with his appearance at an event in Aspen last year.

The group, Compass Colorado, claimed that the DGA picking up the tab for Hickenlooper and his staff violated a state law meant to discourage influence peddling. State officials are only allowed to accept gifts under $53 in value, but the tab for hotel rooms ran into the thousands.

The commission voted 4-1 to dismiss the complaint, saying that Hickenlooper was within his rights as governor to speak about policy and that he didn’t attend the conference to raise money.

“It seems to me the governor was doing what the governor has to do,” Commissioner Bill Pinkham is quoted as saying in the Denver Post.

“We are certainly disappointed, but sadly, are not surprised by this ruling,” Kelly Maher, the executive director of Compass Colorado, said in a press release. “Apparently, the only thing you need to get a pass from the [Independent Ethics Commission] in Colorado is a ‘D’ behind your name.”

That’s a reference to the ethics commission’s ruling last year against Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican who is running for governor. The panel found he violated ethics rules by using public money during a trip to the Republican National Convention and a Republican lawyers conference in 2012.

At the time, Gessler said the commission — made up of two Democrats, two Republicans and an unaffiliated member — is composed of his “political adversaries.” Three of the five have donated to Hickenlooper’s previous campaign for governor; one of those donors also gave to Gessler, according to the Denver Post.

Commissioners on Monday refused to reopen Gessler’s case, which is on appeal.

Republican Commissioner Matt Smith cast the only vote against dismissing Compass Colorado’s complaint against Hickenlooper, telling the Post he thought it merited more discussion.

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

“The Governor saying that it was primarily a policy conference and not a fundraiser is like every time a guy’s told me that he reads Playboy for the articles,” she said.

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