Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff wants the state to audit a federal fund tapped by primary rival John Hickenlooper’s administration to defend the former Colorado governor against an ethics complaint.

Republicans have been demanding for more than a month that the state scrutinize use of the 16-year-old federal account by Hickenlooper, front-runner for the nomination to challenge GOP Sen. Cory Gardner.

“If I were John, I’d welcome an audit. I would request an audit, put the question to rest,”Romanoff said.

“If I were in the legislature, I’d want one, too. This is a nonpartisan issue; we all have an interest in transparency, good government, making sure public dollars are not misused.”

A spokeswoman for Hickenlooper’s campaign earlier dismissed GOP charges about use of the fund as “politically motivated lies” and “a partisan stunt.”

Last Tuesday, a legislative committee voted along party lines to shut down a request from a GOP lawmaker to examine the state’s use of federal funds, including the 2003 account that has paid out at least $40,000 to a Democratic attorney to represent Hickenlooper.

It was the second time Democrats on the Legislative Audit Committee blocked a proposal by state Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and state Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, R-Watkins, to investigate use of the fund, established when the federal government sent Colorado $146.3 million in stimulus funds from the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 to help the state recover from the 2001 recession.

Most of the fund was spent in the first couple of years, but reports show governors have dipped into what remained over the years for miscellaneous expenses, including organizational dues and personnel expenses. As much as $1 million still remains in the fund.

The controversy blew up last fall when it turned out that Denver attorney Mark Grueskin, who regularly represents Democrats and the Democratic Party, was being paid $525 an hour from the fund to represent Hickenlooper on two ethics complaints alleging he improperly accepted travel expenses from corporations when he was governor.

The complaints were filed in 2018 by Frank McNulty, a Republican former speaker of the state House, and his organization, the Public Trust Institute.

The state’s Independent Ethics Commission has set a March date for a hearing on the matter.

Hickenlooper campaign spokeswoman Melissa Miller declined to make the former governor available for an interview on Friday but dismissed the latest round of complaints in a written statement.

“Anyone who looks at the federal flex funds will see that 94% were spent by Republican and Democratic governors before John Hickenlooper took office and that, of the small amount spent by Hickenlooper, the majority went to cover payroll-related expenses for State employees.”

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