Complaint: Colo. governor violated gifts ban

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Brad Jones Contributor
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A Republican-aligned activist group has filed a complaint with the Colorado independent ethics commission alleging that Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper violated the state’s constitutional gift ban.

Passed in 2006, Amendment 41 imposed stringent restrictions on gifts — monetary or in-kind — to public officeholders. The limit, indexed to inflation, stands at $53 a year from any one source. The complainant, the fiscally conservative Compass Colorado, alleges Hickenlooper’s expenses-paid trip to the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) meeting in Aspen this July went well above that limit.

While some exemptions exist for non-political conferences and events, the DGA functions as a political organization promoting Democratic candidates.

“Gov. Hickenlooper should pay his own bar tab,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado, in a statement.

“Using taxpayer funds to plan, travel and attend a partisan conference is a breach of public trust and is below the office to which Hickenlooper was elected,” Maher added.

The complaint cites lodging costs at $425 a night for two nights, plus “two full open bar receptions, two luncheons, one breakfast and a closed-door dinner at a private five-star events center.”

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office did not reply to a request for comment Friday.

The Independent Ethics Commission, created under Amendment 41 to hear complaints and dispense penalties and remedies, will consider the filing in November. Since its inception, the commission has been a forum for activists, candidates and officials to make serious-sounding allegations, though few complaints are found to be “non-frivolous.”

While most ethics complaints are dismissed, the political cost of fielding an allegation can be high. Campaign mailers in the recent recall elections of two state senators included reminders of ethics complaints being filed — though they were quickly discharged.

Facing a hotly-contested re-election bid next year, Hickenlooper can expect a steady stream of ethics complaints against him if history is any guide. Earlier this year, an activist radio host alleged the governor misused a state airplane to shuttle himself, his son and a prominent campaign donor to the kickoff of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The complaint was deemed “frivolous” by the commission.

Despite these historical odds, Maher is optimistic her complaint has traction.

“While Coloradans struggle, our governor is wasting hard-earned taxpayer funds on political events and self-promotion,” she said.

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