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Panel Dismisses Hickenlooper Ethics Complaint

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Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper did not violate the state’s gift ban or improperly use staff time for a partisan governor’s conference, a Colorado ethics panel ruled Monday.

In dismissing the complaint on a 4-1 vote, the Independent Ethics Commission concluded that the use of staff time in preparation for the event was minimal. Commissioners also said the value of Hickenlooper’s policy expertise shared at the Democratic Governors Association conference, and the hours he spent helping organize it, exceeded what group spent on food and lodging for Hickenlooper.

Commissioners spent months considering the complaint. It was filed by the conservative group Compass Colorado, alleging Hickenlooper violated the state’s constitutional gift ban by allowing the governor’s association to pay for his food and lodging at the conference in Aspen last summer.

Hickenlooper’s attorneys argued that exemptions under the gift ban allowed the association to cover costs for the governor, who hosted and spoke at the conference. The state’s gift ban, approved by voters, forbids public officials from receiving something of value exceeding more than $53 in a calendar year, unless the public official is providing something of equal or greater value in return.

The attendance fee was $350 per person, and room rates were $425 a night for two nights.

William Leone, one of the commissioners who considered the complaint, said Hickenlooper “has a legitimate interest as the elected head of the state to present, discuss, debate and hear about policy initiatives that he chooses to advance.”

Leone said that Hickenlooper’s “work to convert and persuade other governors, contributors, constituents, parties affected by his policies” is within the scope of his duties.

Compass Colorado can appeal the ruling, but the group hasn’t made a decision.

Kelly Maher, the executive director of Compass Colorado, said she was disappointed but not surprised by the ruling, noting that three of the five commissioners who decided the case are previous Hickenlooper donors.

“This was a lot like having five wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner,” she said.

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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