John Hickenlooper isn’t used to being challenged. You can tell by how upset he gets when the media gives him tough questions. But even being appointed the chosen one by Washington, D.C., Democratic insiders can’t stop the freight train headed for Hickenlooper — an ethics investigation.
As a refresher, more than a year ago, a complaint was filed with Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission citing more than 100 accounts of flights and gifts Hickenlooper seemingly accepted without repayment, in violation of our state’s limit on gifts elected officials can legally accept. Because of a one-year statute of limitations, it turns out that Hickenlooper only has to prove his innocence on six of those accounts — which he has failed to do. Instead, he’s belittling the investigation, calling it “frivolous,” and even exclaiming that the media should be “protecting” him.
A quick note about ethics laws. Voters approved our state’s gift limit in 2006 to give us peace of mind that policy decisions aren’t being bought and paid for by special interest groups. For example, when Hickenlooper received a private flight to officiate the wedding of Elon Musk’s brother around the same time that he issued an executive order on emissions laws that directly benefits Elon Musk’s business, people are rightly skeptical.
So, as this ethics probe has crawled along at a glacial pace (the next hearing was pushed out to March because of a lack of suitable office space — not kidding) — and the media has had time to dig more into this issue — things have only gotten worse for Hickenlooper.
Late last year, the Denver Post broke the story that a special attorney had been hired by the Attorney General’s Office to defend Hickenlooper at a rate of $525-an-hour — five times the normal rate as a lawyer in the AG’s office brings in. On top of that, Gov. Hickenlooper’s office approved these funds for his lawyer out of a post-9/11 economic recovery grant that was designated for “essential government services.”
Gov. Hickenlooper also used these post-9/11 recovery funds for other questionable expenses. I can think of several essential services that could use some added attention, and Hickenlooper’s National Governors Association membership isn’t one of them.
Neither is a self-promoting website on Hickenlooper as he left the governor’s office that cost $13,000 and was up less than a year.
This all seems like something that should be looked into, right? Well, the Legislative Audit Committee has now twice refused to audit the fund, or funds like it, on a partisan vote with all Democrats voting against.
The media has even started the job for them. Reporting found that from the end of Hickenlooper’s first term through his second term, expenses drawn from the 9/11 recovery fund include $20,381 for renting a state-owned aircraft, $111,842 on “personal services,” $399,000 on dues to national associations, and more than $13,000 for the previously mentioned website.
The Denver Post Editorial Board has been direct — calling his use of this fund “disappointing,” and saying that “Hickenlooper should own this mistake publicly and commit to doing better if he’s elected to public office in the future.”
Still, Hickenlooper seems to be more enraged at the media for doing their jobs, and indifferent toward the public concern about silly ethics laws and audits. Hickenlooper should stop blaming former staff and own up to mistakes. The Legislature should show that it cares about waste and misuse, and the Ethics Committee should hold Hickenlooper accountable to Colorado’s ethics laws.
Lindsey Singer is communications director for Colorado Rising PAC.