DENVER (CBS4)– Former Gov. John Hickenlooper violated Colorado’s constitutional gift ban at least twice. That’s according to a ruling by the Independent Ethics Commission, handed down on Friday afternoon.
The commission did find in favor of Hickenlooper, a current Senate candidate for the Democratic party, on most of the complaints.
The commission considered six possible ethics violations in all and found that Hickenlooper didn’t violate the gift ban on four occasions.
The rulings come after two days of testimony. Hickenlooper defied a subpoena to testify on Thursday and was held in contempt. He showed up for the second day and fielded a lot of questions about travel on corporate jets.
“How many private jets do you take one-year period?” asked complainants’ attorney Suzanne Staiert.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember,” replied Hickenlooper.
Staiert represents Public Trust Institute, the Republican group behind the complaint. She argued if Hickenlooper didn’t know he was violating the state’s gift ban law by accepting the flights, he should have.
Whether the trips were for state functions or not, she says, they were gifts to him, not the state, by corporations, not friends.
“So is it your belief that any time you can save time by getting on a private jet that it’s acceptable then for the state to not pay for state’s business?” asked Staiert.
“I believe that my team… I believe they look at and try to balance those things, address those decisions we’re making on the schedule,” said Hickenlooper.
His attorney insisted if he was on state business, the flight was a gift to the state, and the corporations were owned by friends, an argument that – in most cases – commissioners didn’t buy.
“Once we cross the line, start allowing private funding for public officials, even when they’re doing something really great for the state, we open up what I think is a can of worms,” said commissioner Bill Leone.
Commissioner Yeulin Willet agreed, “What I see is an uncomfortable creep to find more and more friendships and to find and more and more special occasions.”
The commissioners also raised questions about a trip to Italy for a swanky conference sponsored by Fiat, a foreign corporation. Hickenlooper said he thought he paid for it.
His attorney Mark Grueskin said, “If you don’t know you received something, how in the world can you be responsible for rejecting it, and likewise, how can you be responsible for reporting it?”
But that argument didn’t fly with commissioners who found Hickenlooper violated the gift ban in that instance.
Commissioner Leone said, “I think we set a dangerous precedent if we tell the respondent or other elected officials that it’s ok be ignorant in what you’re receiving and that’s going be a defense.”
The commission will announce the penalties for the two ethics violations next Friday. They can fine him up to twice the cost of the illegal gifts.