The Denver Post
Lynn Bartels

The state Independent Ethics Commission on Monday unanimously voted to proceed with an ethics complaint filed against Gov. John Hickenlooper, a step that calls for further review but is not an indication a violation occurred.

The decision was announced after the commission met in executive session to review the complaint and deemed it “non-frivolous.”

Compass Colorado, a conservative political group, claims Hickenlooper violated the gift-ban provision of the state’s ethics law, Amendment 41, by allowing the Democratic Governors Association to pick up costs for a conference this summer in Aspen. The attendance fee was $350 per person, and room rates were $425 per night for two nights.
The commission’s legal counsel, the attorney general’s office, will next contact Compass Colorado and the governor’s office so the “process can begin,” said Matt Smith, a former lawmaker from Mesa County and the current chairman of the five-member commission.

He did not elaborate on what that process would be.

“We look forward to further review of this complaint,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado. “There is certainly a need for additional clarification and precedent when it comes to Amendment 41.”

Critics of the ethics measure say it is poorly worded, and experts contend the gift-ban provision is the most difficult to interpret because of its nuances and exemptions. The governor’s office says those exemptions allowed the DGA to cover costs for Hickenlooper, vice chairman of the group, host for the July event and a speaker at the conference.

The commission through October had reviewed 10 complaints. Of the 10, seven were dismissed outright as “frivolous,” one was found frivolous after further review, one was dismissed after commissioners determined following a hearing there hadn’t been a violation, and one was rejected because the commission didn’t have jurisdiction.

Another complaint filed against Hickenlooper in July was one of those complaints dismissed by the commission without comment.

“These allegations are motivated 100 percent by people playing political games and have no basis in fact,” Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown earlier said.