Since Colorado voters approved Amendment 41 in 2006, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission has heard many complaints. However, the predominant number of cases that have been heard by the commission have not been major ethical or legal violations of taxpayer trust. Most of the cases have been politically motivated and brought to the commission in order to tie up elected leaders over what most people would consider petty issues.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler has made his share of headlines over different run-ins with the Ethics Commission. He’s still embroiled in a fight over allegations of misusing taxpayer funds during a trip to the 2012 RNC. The fight has spent many more times the money than was used for the trip in question.
But while Gessler kept most of the Ethics Commission headlines for himself over the past couple of years, he now has company in the news with his potential gubernatorial race opponent, Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Hickenlooper is currently fighting his own battle with the Ethics Commission over a complaint regarding a Democratic Governors Association event last year.
Lynn Bartels with The Denver Post recently wrote about the recent developments in that case as the governor fights to get the complaint dismissed. There are many details over reports, transcripts and various interviews.
But beyond the details, there is a sense from not only Hickenlooper, but also Colorado Attorney General John Suthers that the complaint is making a mountain over a molehill.
If Scott Gessler wins the GOP primary gets the opportunity to face John Hickenlooper in this year’s election, the whole idea of Ethics Complaints will be front and center for both of them.
Will the ads about each other’s complaints and investigations cancel each other out?
Or perhaps the issue will become how the Ethics Commission, while designed with good intentions by Amendment 41, has turned into a political weapon that spends a great deal of time and tax dollars doing very little to advance ethical behavior in Colorado.
We can easily predict the political ads that would remind voters about the complaints, but is it as easy to predict the ads that would criticize the process, and thereby call into question the entire law that the commission is based upon?
Again, the case for an Ethics Commission can be made when we arrive at serious examples of violations against the pubic trust. Those instances happen and should indeed be investigated to the fullest extent possible.
But the fact of the matter is that the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission is designed to uphold a flawed law.
Amendment 41 looked like a good deal to voters in 2006, but has done more harm than good in the form of frivolous complaints that end of costing taxpayers much more than the original alleged transgressions.
Maybe an election featuring competing ads about ethics complaints will finally make us look at Amendment 41 and support real changes.
Then again, getting rid of an effective political weapon is very hard to do.
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– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.