Panel: Colorado Sec. of State Gessler misspent taxpayer money, violated ethics rules

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who is pondering a run for governor, said last week that a bipartisan ethics panel ruled that he inappropriately used state funds was politically motivated and out to get him.

For proof, he pointed out that two of the five members on the Independent Ethics Commission gave money to his political opponents. Denver’s 7News said he plans an appeal.

At issue is about $1,400 dollars that Gessler spent from his office’s discretionary fund to attend a Republican lawyers’ conference and for expenses related to attending the Republican National Convention last summer.

So far, the investigation into whether the use of those funds was appropriate has cost Colorado taxpayers at least $143,000, according to the Denver Post.

“These commissioners decided seven months ago to rule against me,” Gessler said in a statement issued after the ruling.

“As we said from the start, I’ve had grave concerns about this tribunal’s ability to be fair and objective,” he said. “Every attempt we made to expose the truth and the facts in the case were met with resistance or rejected outright. Instead of impartial, engaged commissioners, I faced a group of my political adversaries.”

Prior to the hearing, Gessler had repaid about $1,300 of the money he spent on the trips. His lawyer told the Post that it was to avoid any appearance of wrongdoing.

But he told the commission that he used money from the discretionary fund to avoid scrutiny.

“I looked at the secretary’s testimony, ‘Hey, I knew this was going to be questioned,’ and kind of raised my eyebrows,” commission chairman Matt Smith told the Post.

The paper cited campaign finance reports to show that two Democratic members of the panel donated to Gessler’s opponent during his 2010 race for secretary of state and to Gov. John Hickenlooper, against whom Gessler would run if he makes his candidacy official.

But the panel’s two Republicans and an unaffiliated member also found him to have “breached the public trust for private gain,” levying a fine of about twice the amount he spent. The exact figure will be published later in the week.

“This commission is not what Coloradans were promised,” Gessler said. “Voters expected appointed leaders to prevent and punish influence peddling and corruption by state officials and public employees. Unfortunately, this rogue group serves as another negative campaign tool funded by the taxpayers that will only have a chilling effect on Coloradans pursuing public service.”

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