The Gazette wrote “if” when addressing former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s ethics charges. We've long known Hickenlooper and did not want it to be true. “if” he did it, we wrote — placing an expressed emphasis on “if” – we would find troubling his possible election to the United States Senate.
As it turns out, Hickenlooper was guilty all along. Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission ruled Friday he illegally accepted gifts from foreign and domestic corporations while serving as governor in 2018.
The Gazette's editorial board explained last week how Hickenlooper could not do more to appear guilty. He flatly refused to testify to the ethics commission, which finally held him in contempt. Only after Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser asked a district judge to enforce the commission’s subpoena did Hickenlooper begrudgingly testify.
The commission convicted him of taking illegal gifts when he accepted a Maserati limousine ride, meals, hotel accommodations, and other amenities while attending a conference in Italy paid for by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
The commission also convicted him for accepting a private jet trip to the commissioning of the Navy’s USS Colorado submarine in Connecticut. That trip was funded by MDC Holdings, a Colorado-based home building company owned by Larry Mizel — a top fundraiser for, and supporter of, President Donald Trump.
Voters enacted gift limitations to prevent wealthy corporations and individuals from buying outcomes from powerful politicians. They did so “to make government have more integrity,” said Commissioner Bill Leone, a former U.S. attorney and Hickenlooper appointee to the commission, as quoted in media. “And I think they were concerned about the stockpiling, if you will, or warehousing of political favors through gift-giving.”
Attorney and former Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty, who brought the charges against Hickenlooper, told us the contempt and ethics violations don’t bode well for the aspiring senator.
“After 18 months of John Hickenlooper’s pleas that he wasn’t guilty, the Independent Ethics Commission found him guilty of accepting gifts illegally from US and foreign corporations. It’s a devastating blow to John Hickenlooper and his future in elective office,” McNulty told The Gazette.
The contempt and sordid ethical behavior raise another set of concerns. Hickenlooper was found paying for his expensive legal defense with money given to Colorado to help with economic recovery after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead of establishing an emergency fund with the leftover money — which state government could use to help offset the pandemic recession — Hickenlooper used chunks of it for “personal services” and a lawyer who cost $80,000 as of the last documented payout.
For $80,000, and that’s just part of it, Hickenlooper attorney Mark Grueskin's advice helped get the former governor convicted of contempt and acceptance of illegal gifts. One conviction was a unanimous decision of Republicans and Democrats. It’s a disgraceful waste of taxpayer money.
Because of these convictions, Coloradans can never be sure the decisions Hickenlooper made as governor were of his own volition. We must always wonder gifts from foreign and domestic corporations influenced him.
Imagine the temptations Hickenlooper would face in the Senate, where foreign corporations, governments, and lobbyists specialize in buying congressional influence with elaborate gifts.
A year ago February, Hickenlooper openly cast doubt on his suitability for the U.S. Senate.
“I’m not cut out to be a senator,” Hickenlooper said while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in Iowa.
That was prophetic. A politician proven susceptible to inappropriate gifts by corporations is the last thing Colorado needs in Washington. Hickenlooper nailed it. He’s not cut out to be a senator.