DENVER (AP) — Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler broke no rules when he was reimbursed more than $1,500 for travel to the Republican National Convention and a GOP election law conference in Florida, his attorneys maintain in a filing asking that an ethics complaint be dismissed.
Gessler’s attorneys also say in the late-Thursday filing that his trip to Florida was cut short because of death threats to him and his family, and that his use of his office’s discretionary fund was line with his predecessor’s practices.
The state’s Independent Ethics Commission is reviewing allegations that Gessler was improperly reimbursed $1,570 for attending political events. Denver prosecutors also are investigating to see if Gessler committed a crime.
Gessler denies any wrongdoing.
His attorneys say his actions were “legal, proper and fully within any applicable ethical standards.” They say in the filing to the ethics commission that it has no jurisdiction to investigate criminal allegations, which is what the Denver district attorney’s office is doing.
Colorado Ethics Watch filed the complaint against Gessler.
“What’s baffling to me is that the secretary of state has hired three law firms to write my essay in order to fight an ethics complaint that’s about $1,500 instead of paying the money back,” said Luis Toro, the group’s executive director.
The filing Thursday also has details on death threats that Gessler’s attorneys say he received while in Florida.
His attorneys say one Aug. 24 email said Gessler was “being watched,” and that the writer hoped Gessler’s wife and daughter were raped. In a phone call three days later, a secretary of state employee said someone threatened Gessler and said all “Republicans should be shot in the head” and that “people know where the secretary and his family live.”
Gessler cut short his trip to Florida because of the threats, which were investigated by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and his office paid $422 for an earlier flight home, which his attorneys said was an appropriate expense.
Gessler has been a divisive figure in Colorado politics, frequently clashing with Democrats and left-leaning groups over issues like campaign finance and his pursuit of noncitizens illegally registered to vote. Gessler’s attorneys questioned the political motives of Toro’s group, saying Ethics Watch “is motivated by a desire to attack and embarrass Republicans.”
Toro countered by saying, “Basically that’s an admission that they don’t have much of a defense on the merits.”
In the filing, Gessler’s attorneys said his attendance at the Republican National Lawyers’ Association in Florida was a legitimate expense from his $5,000 annual discretionary fund, and that the event was educational and an opportunity to learn more about election law. Although the state paid for his flight to Florida, Gessler’s attorneys say he used campaign funds to pay for expenses related to his attendance at the RNC.
“I don’t think that passes the smell test,” Toro said.
Gessler’s attorneys argue he has properly used his discretionary fund, because it can be used as elected officials see fit. The attorneys say previous secretaries of state have used discretionary funds for things like office furniture, clothing and meetings with lobbyists.
It’s unclear when the ethics complaint will be resolved, and Denver prosecutors have not made a decision on whether to pursue charges. Democratic state lawmakers also are seeking an audit to investigate Gessler’s use of his discretionary fund.
By IVAN MORENO, Associated Press
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)