Governor’s Office Releases Transcripts of Oddly-Biased Ethics Investigation

We wrote last summer and fall about the political tactic of using independent ethics investigations as campaign fodder — regardless of whether the investigation has any merit whatsoever. As Fox 31's Eli Stokols reports today, someone needs to investigate the ethics of the investigator hired by the Independent Ethics Commission (got that?):

Bill McBean

Bill McBean

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office released an outside report Monday investigating whether he violated the state’s ethics law — a report that isn’t being accepted by the Colorado Ethics Commission because of questions about the investigator’s fairness.

Compass Colorado, a conservative group charged with targeting Hickenlooper, a Democrat who faces reelection this fall, filed a complaint last year alleging that the governor violated the gift-ban provision of Amendment 41 by allowing the Democratic Governors Association to pick up his costs for a conference last summer in Aspen.

In March, the Ethics Commission hired Acclaim Investigations to find out what happened at the Aspen conference last July, where participants — mostly oil and gas industry executives — donated at least $10,000 to take part in discussions and private dinners with Hickenlooper and a few other governors, according to the report released Monday.

Bill McBean, an investigator employed by Acclaim and contracted by the commission to investigate, appears to have mis-characterized Hickenlooper’s own answers when interviewing his staffers, possibly in an effort to trip them up with a number of leading questions.

You really should read the entire story to see the full extent of the absurdity from this "investigation" by Bill McBean. The Governor's office wisely released a bunch of documents today showing transcripts of interviews with McBean, and they are pretty ridiculous. On multiple occasions, McBean straight-out tells his interview subjects that he thinks the Democratic Governor's Association Summit was a "pay-to-play" event; McBean is supposed to be an "independent" investigator, but it's hard to see anything but bias when he makes direct accusations of misconduct during the investigation process.

The Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) is scheduled to meet on April 14th to make a decision on the complaint filed against Hickenlooper. But even if the IEC rules that Hick did nothing wrong, McBean's biased words will almost certainly show up in negative ads against the Governor this fall, and that's wrong — particularly when Republicans such as Attorney General John Suthers have already publicly stated that the investigation is ridiculous.

Full press release from the Governor's office after the jump.

 

Records released related to Independence Ethics Commission

 

DENVER — Monday, April 7, 2014 The Governor’s Office today released records related to work being done by the state’s Independent Ethics Commission (IEC). The records include a draft report done by an investigator hired by the IEC, as well as transcripts of interviews completed by the same investigator.

 

The Governor’s Office received an unsolicited copy of the investigator’s draft report on March 29. At the IEC hearing two days later (March 31), the Governor’s Office heard for the first time from IEC Commissioners that they had not seen the report and would not be accepting a report from the investigator. Instead, the IEC announced it would use the transcripts and audio of the interviews as its formal investigation.

 

In response to a Colorado Open Records Act request, which the Governor’s Office received on Thursday, the draft report is being released today. The Governor’s Office is also releasing the interview transcripts because they are relevant to the case and there is no reason to protect them. The transcripts were delivered last week by the IEC to all parties in the complaint.

 

As the interviews by the investigator make clear, and as the Governor’s Office has explained in detail in recent months, the facts of the case include:

 

*The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) policy conference in Aspen last summer was initiated and run by the DGA, following a long-standing tradition of the DGA and the Republican Governors Association to hold these types meetings that former Govs. Roy Romer, Bill Owens and Bill Ritter all attended during their time in office. The DGA policy conferences attract speakers who have nothing to do with supporting the DGA or the Democratic Party and have often included prominent people like T. Boone Pickens and other Republicans.

 

*The governor did not engage in any fundraising on behalf of the DGA during the weekend’s DGA activities.

 

*The rooms provided for the governor and his staff were fully compliant with Amendment 41 provisions.

 

*Policy briefings compiled by the governor’s staff were for the exclusive use of the governor, and are a standard practice since the governor is governor 24/7 no matter what the audience. Policy briefings are an important and appropriate use of policy staff time to ensure Colorado is always presented in the most favorable and competitive light before any audience.


*Fundraising activities by the governor that weekend were separate from the DGA policy conference, and did not involve any state resources or any of the paid attendees of the DGA policy conference. The two separate fundraisers were to benefit the Hickenlooper campaign and Colorado Democratic Party.

 

The Governor’s Office has cooperated fully throughout the IEC process, and the Governor’s Office has vigorously defended the claims against the governor.

 

“The governor did not violate any constitutional provision, statute, rule, reporting requirement or other standard of ethical conduct in preparing for or hosting the DGA conference,” a response letter dated Dec. 20, 2013, to the IEC says.

 

Further, the Governor’s Office argued in a motion filed with the IEC on Feb. 28 that the case should be dismissed as frivolous. “The governor’s hosting of the Policy Conference complied with all of Colorado’s constitutional and statutory ethical laws,” the motion says.

 

The governor will not comment about the complaint before the IEC meeting on April 14.

 

Records attached to this press release include: the investigator’s draft report, and transcripts from each of the 10 interviews completed by the investigator. Also attached are the Governor’s Office Dec. 20 response to the complaint, and the Governor’s Office Motion to Dismiss filed on Feb. 28.

 

38 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ModeratusModeratus says:

    I see. But when Gessler gets nailed by the IEC, that's the crime of the century?

    Could the bias of Eli Stokols and Colorado Pols be any more apparent?

    • Gessler was accused of using state funds for a partisan trip. He did – inappropriately, as the bipartisan IEC ruled.

      Hickenlooper was accused of receiving gifts from a partisan organization. While there's no ruling yet, the IEC apparently found the investigator's compiled report and some of his questioning to be biased and has opted to use the investigator's raw data gathering as its source. Hickenlooper apparently was quite careful about separating funds, time, and even attendees. Even AG Suthers thinks it's a witch-hunt.

  2. ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

    Moderatus – Hickenlooper was at least informed what he was charged with under my understanding.  

    • BlueCat says:

      That old discredited saw? Please see past threads.  Nobody wants to embark on the thankless task of explaining it (or anything really) to you for the umpteenth time.

      • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

        Discredited? Read the district court ruling BC.  It explicitly says that notice is simply having the laws that you were punished under published somewhere.  As long as it is "administrative" that is supposedly good enough. 

        So sorry BC – this is hardly "discredtied', rather it is just inconvenient for your partian views. 

        • Miss Jane says:

          Elliot, this district court ruling?  Scott Gessler was fined appropriately for ethical lapses.  He is responsible for following ethical practices as are all elected officials.  They are required to know or this.  The district court clearly says this in the ruling, as well as stating this was an administrative law proceeding. This was not a criminal case and the original complaint became moot.  It falls under the "you got our attention and made us look rule" that mothers and policemen use everyday. The IEC followed procedure.  It's ruling was deemed fair even to the "average person".

          It is time to put down the shovel and climb out of the hole.  Please.

          http://crew.3cdn.net/601e5038c7526165fa_lqm6b8xny.pdf

          • CaninesCanines says:

            Well, actually reading that decision puts my mind as ease: Gessler, guilty as charged.

            Guy doesn't even know to staple receipts to a request for reimbursement.

          • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

            Please state the exact section of the exact rule or regulation he was convicted under, the elements of that violation, and when Gessler was informed of those elements. 

            You can't.  Because it never happened.  I've looked at the relevant notices and documents.

          • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

            No need to send the link to that opinion – it is what I am referencing. See pages 6-7. 

            • Miss Jane says:

              What it seems to come down to is a continuing difference of opinion between Mr. Gessler and his supporters on one side and the IEC and the district court on the other.  Mr. Gessler seems to have had a full understanding of what the hearing was about and provided a defense directly relating to the actions in question.  It looks like the IEC could only make a decision after hearing both sides. The district court opinion seems to support that the IEC followed its own procedures.

              I actually wish this had turned out better for Mr. Gessler, but it didn't.  I can only imagine how he felt about those vile threats against him and his family.   He may have done better with the return flight expense and the remainder of the discretionary funds.  Using the continuing legal education credits didn't work, especially since he doesn't seem to recall the sessions he attended and the talk he gave.

              The citations from the C.R.S. and exactly when each was found to pertain seem clear.  It looks like this is part of the accepted process.  Unless this is further appealed it's over. 

              • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

                Miss Jane,
                Gessler knew largely the FACTS that were at issue.  He DID NOT know which laws/regulations were at issue.  To have a fair hearing, you need to know both. 

                • Miss Jane says:

                  As an elected official he is required to know the ethics rules.  And until the hearing and understanding both sides' positions the IEC would not know if any actually would apply in this specific case. They originally ruled in executive session, as procedures require, whether the complaint was frivolous or not frivolous.  Then they sent what they had, the original complaint and the additional complaint, to Scott Gessler and an investigation was begun.  He provided a defense based on the ethics rules he was found in violation of. That is my understanding.  Are you saying he was not provided a copy of the investigative report in a timely manner?  There must be an accounting process for that.

                  • BlueCat says:

                    See what I mean?

                    • Miss Jane says:

                      Yes.  I think Elliot and I have something in common, we are both stubborn.   smiley

                      And he does seem to think that Scott Gessler was treated unfairly.  But unless there is an appeal, it really doesn't matter, legally speaking.  Politically though, it does give one pause for thought.  Mr. Gessler should do more thinking.  One doesn't want to get caught with one's lower lip out, especially in politics.

                  • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

                    I am saying he was never provided the elements of the charges he was facing.  In fact, he was ever provided a definitive list of what charges he would face at hearing at all. 

                    • Miss Jane says:

                      Elliot, I tried responding earlier, but somehow I was kicked off line.  So, I will condense.

                      It appears that the district court agrees that the IEC's procedures were followed.  Scott has basically two choices.  He can further appeal the ruling or work to change the procedures.  Personally, I really don't see how giving a definitive list of "charges" fits with this process.  They are addressing a complaint and everyone turns over and presents their information.  But, I suppose a change could happen. That will not directly affect this case, as I understand.

                      But appealing is Scott Gessler's decision.  It is not any one else's.  Are the established procedures fair?  I really don't know, but they appear to be.  Are they legal?  Apparently, they are.  I know you don't want to let this go, I fully understand that, I wouldn't either if I were in your shoes. But until Scott decides that an appeal a wiser choice, it's over.  Fair or not.    

                    • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

                      The District Court's opinion was that Scott had no right to know offense he was charged with so long as the law/regulation he was convicted of was published somewhere.  Don't believe me? Go look at the opinion on pages 6-7.  Its right there. 

        • Progressicat says:

          So sorry BC – this is hardly "discredtied', rather it is just inconvenient for your partian views

          Well, that one shorted my irony meter.  Elliot, the judge found that the notice was sufficient.  Unless a higher court says otherwise, that's the law.  Any statement to the contrary, Viz. yours, is pure opinion even though you try to state it as fact.

          • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

            The judge's decision is that in an administrative hearing you are not required to be told what law you are charged under.  What is disgusting is that people on this page, who otherwise are for due process, are supporting such a ruling for partisan gain. 

            • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

               

              What is disgusting is that people on this page, who otherwise are for due process, are supporting such a ruling for partisan gain. 

              As disgusting as…say, denying health care to a crippled child…say?

               

            • Progressicat says:

              I'm constantly amazed how well folks I've never met understand my deepest convictions and motives.

              I'd have said the same thing if the ruling was against Hick.  It's the law.  Appeal the ruling or change the law if you don't like it but stop pretending your opinion is fact.  It's perfectly reasonable for folks here to believe that Scott got what he was entitled to under law.

               

    • It is my vague understanding from the article that the Governor's office was delivered an unsolicited copy of the investigator's report – which probably would have contained those charges. However, that report isn't being used, and I do not see anywhere that the Governor was informed of the specific paragraphs of the state's ethics laws with which the IEC was actually charging him.

  3. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    Call me a disloyal Dem, but enquiring minds do want to know what exactly the Gov was chatting about all weekend with the oil and gas executives…..

    • Progressicat says:

      He needed to borrow a cup of fracking fluid to add to his morning coffee?

      The meetings are clearly unethical (in that they are immoral), as is any event in which people pay for premium access to government, but it's hard to see that anything unethical (in the legal sense) happened here.

      • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

        Nothing says "morning in Colorado" like a dash of frack goo in the morning brew.  I hear that you get a rich, caramelized sheen if you burn  off the volatile compounds before sipping.

        Probably you're right – nothing actually illegal went on at Hick's Aspen O&G Q&A…and, at the risk of setting off Elliot again, I will say that Gessler's original ethical lapse was pretty minor – and he could have taken care of it at the time by paying the Department back the $1300 and  admitting wrongdoing, perhaps implementing a new procedure to prevent such lapses.

        However, Gessler chose to fight it for two years and spend over $230,000 of the State Department budget on it.

        I predict that, if Gessler gets the nomination, voters are going to get so fracking sick of hearing about these ethics investigations that they just tune the ads out.

         

         

        • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

          Gessler has spent years fighting to get the NOTICE of what he was charged with.  If the IEC had simply provided him that the cost would have been a fraction of what was spent.  Their refusal to provide notice is on them, not on Gessler. 

          • Old Time Dem says:

            What universe does Gessler occupy that he is unaware that he is not supposed to use state funds to pay for partisan activities or convert his office budget to cash in his pocket?

            • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

              OTD, 
              Before you convict somebody you tell them the law/regulation that was violated.  Except if you are the IEC apparently.  

              If you think it is this straightforward, then how come the IEC never provided the elements of the legal offense Gessler was charged with? It should be pretty simple under your view, right?

        • The realistThe realist says:

          ". . . burn off the volatile compounds before sipping."

          Ooooo, fracking fluid flambe! Probably already on the menu of some gaspatch company store.

           

           

    • BlueCat says:

      No secret that Hick is very supportive of big gas and oil. He certainly doesn't try to hide it.

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