Earlier this week U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn requested an investigation from the U.S. Treasury into John Hickenlooper’s use of a 9/11 recovery fund to pay for his ethics defense.
According to new figures from the Denver Post, Hickenlooper’s $525/hour attorney cost taxpayers over $150,000 to defend his illegal conduct.
Why is this development significant? Let’s recap how we got here.
Following the filing of the ethics complaint in 2018, Hickenlooper refused representation from a state $112/hour Deputy Attorney General, instead opting for the appointment of an outside attorney at $525/hour.
The special arrangement necessitated financing Hickenlooper’s representation through a federal 9/11 recovery fund administered by the governor’s office, not the AG’s office. As the Denver Post reported at the time, Hickenlooper’s lawyer’s name was hidden from the state transparency database:
The practice of redacting Grueskin’s name from the public database for payments in the ethics case began when Hickenlooper was governor and has continued during the tenure of Gov. Jared Polis, a fellow Democrat. The governor’s office said names are redacted to protect confidentiality, such as attorney-client privilege, in accordance with state law.
According to the transparency database, money paid by the state to Grueskin comes from the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, a bundle of federal dollars allocated as part of a President George W. Bush-era plan to jump-start the post-9/11 economy.
Following these revelations, State Sen. Paul Lundeen requested an audit of the fund in December 2019. Democrats rejected the move in a party-line vote, and offered an eye-raising rationale for doing so:
But Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, called the request inappropriate, saying it wasn’t the audit committee’s place to investigate because it’s not a legal entity.
“We can’t press charges for fraud,” she said. “We can’t charge anyone with fraud.”
Shortly thereafter a report from Colorado Sun found Fields’ daughter was employed by the Hickenlooper campaign, raising further questions about Democrats’ potentially corrupt motives:
Likewise, she defended her vote, saying she didn’t consider it a conflict. “This is not about her, it’s not really about her occupation. It’s about me, and my ability to be able to make very good decisions and judgments for the state of Colorado,” she said.
Fields declined to comment about whether Hickenlooper’s spending was appropriate, and she dismissed other questions. “This topic is just not all that important to me because people are struggling on all sides,” she said.
Had an actual investigation been conducted, “auditors would also have found expenses that less evidently align” with laws governing the use of the 9/11 recovery fund:
Between mid-2014 and the start of 2019 — a time span that includes the end of Hickenlooper’s first term in office and his entire second term — those expenses include $20,381 in rentals of a state-owned aircraft, $111,842 on “personal services” and at least $399,006 in dues to groups like the National Governors Association, Western Governors Association and National Association of State Budget Officers.
Other questionable expenses from the fund included $13,000 for a campaign-style “legacy” website that launched in the months prior to his presidential campaign announcement.
When @Hickenlooper was Governor, he used $13,000 of taxpayer dollars to build a campaign-style website highlighting his “legacy.”
It used to look like this ⬇️ But… then we bought it.
— The Senate Majority (@NRSC) January 29, 2020
Bottom Line: As Rep. Lamborn wrote in his complaint, there is ample evidence to suggest Hickenlooper unlawfully raided the 9/11 recovery fund to pay for his ethics defense. Since Hickenlooper refuses to be transparent and Democrats blocked an audit, it appears increasingly likely he could face a federal investigation.