Hickenlooper fires back on ethics complaint; calls it ‘frivolous’

Author: Colorado Politics - November 22, 2018 - Updated: November 23, 2018

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski-file)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has responded to an ethics complaint accusing him of violations of state law involving travel, saying he has complied with the law and calling the accusations “frivolous.”

His 15-page response to the state Independent Ethics Commission, which Colorado Public Radio posted late Wednesday, says the complaint made false claims against the governor and called for it to be dismissed.

The complaint against the Democratic governor was filed by the Greenwood Village-based Public Trust Institute, a nonprofit formed a few days earlier by Frank McNulty, who was the Republican Speaker of the Colorado House in 2011 and 2012.

During McNulty’s days in the statehouse, he and Hickenlooper were frequently at odds over policy.

The complaint, filed Oct. 12, accused Hickenlooper of traveling the globe in private jets and rooming in expensive hotels paid for by businesses in violation of the state’s ethics laws as established under Amendment 41, a state constitutional amendment on ethics passed by voters in 2006.

Under the amendment and other state laws, officials are barred from accepting gifts worth more than $59, but there are exceptions.

In an October statement accompanying the complaint, McNulty alleged that the Democratic governor “traveled on private jets owned by for-profit corporations both domestically and internationally and illegally accepted luxury hotel accommodations and expensive travel expenses from corporations.”

Hickenlooper’s response to the compliant says that “at no time” did Hickenlooper violate “the letter or spirit of Amendment 41.”

It refers to “the frivolous nature of the allegations. We anticipate the matter will be resolved quickly and in our favor.”

It says that of the various trips cited in the complaint as improper — including one to a Bilderberg Group conference in Turin, Italy — Hickenlooper either paid for his travel, as in the case of the Bilderberg trip, or the trips were for state business or were for private or personal purposes and therefore were exempted from state ethics laws.

The response says the voters in passing Amendment 41 “allowed those who are in public service to attend to their families and attend events of special significance … under the same terms that any other person might do so.”

It says one trip to Dallas to officiate at the wedding of Kimbal Musk, brother of Elon Musk, was an honorarium for his services at the wedding.

“The Governor [paid] for certain expenses about which ethical concerns were raised [by McNulty’s complaint],” the response says. “The State paid for certain others that pertained to State business. And, as is permitted by law, personal friends absorbed a limited universe of other such costs.”

At the time the complaint was filed, Hickenlooper’s office called it a “political stunt” by the Public Trust Institute and said its timing was aimed at influencing the then-upcoming midterm election.

In a comment on Hickenlooper’s filing, McNulty said this to CPR:

“Hickenlooper tried to shoe-horn his corporate jet-setting into legal exemptions. He failed. He cannot accept gifts and travel illegally, fail to report them, and then try and claim an existing exemption.”

The response leaves the matter in the ethics commission’s court. On Oct. 23, it determined that McNulty’s complaint was “non-frivolous” and that it would investigate, and gave Hickenlooper 30 days to file a response.

Prior to receiving Hickenlooper’s response, Bill Leone of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission said Monday that the panel likely would move quickly.

Leone said then that the commission intends to begin working on the complaint at its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 17.

The commission has not yet decided which of its members will served the role as a hearing officer. That commissioner takes on something of a judicial role, including running the hearing when the time comes.

Hickenlooper appointed two members of the five-member commission (Leone in 2013 and Elizabeth Krupa in August of this year).

In addition, Leone, Krupa and commission Chair April Jones have all made contributions to Hickenlooper’s election bids. All contributions were made before any of the three were on the commission.

The controversy comes as Hickenlooper, who is term-limited and leaves office in January, has been exploring a potential presidential run in 2020, and has been making a number of trips around the country for political appearances and to speak to groups.

The fact that Hickenlooper leaves office in a few weeks is a complicating factor for the ethics panel.

Marianne Goodland, Conrad Swanson and Mark Harden contributed.

Colorado Politics

Colorado Politics

Colorado Politics, formerly The Colorado Statesman, is the state's premier political news publication, renowned for its award-winning journalism. The publication is also the oldest political news outlet in the state, in continuous publication since 1898. Colorado Politics covers the stories behind the stories in Colorado's state Capitol and across the Centennial State, focusing on politics, public policy and elections with in-depth reporting on the people behind the campaigns — from grassroots supporters to campaign managers and the candidates and issues themselves.