The Colorado Observer
Valerie Richardson
June 10, 2014
DENVER — The same Democratic group that picked up the tab last year for Gov. John Hickenlooper at an Aspen conference is reportedly now running campaign ads on his behalf, but members of the state’s ethics commission say that’s not a problem. The Independent Ethics Commission agreed Monday to add to the record information from Compass Colorado indicating that the Democratic Governors Association is contributing to television ads aimed at giving Hickenlooper a clearer path to reelection.

Even so, commissioner William Leone said at Monday’s meeting the new information about the DGA’s involvement in the gubernatorial campaign would not have affected his April 14 vote to dismiss the ethics complaint against Hickenlooper filed last year by Compass Colorado.

[M]y vote on that would not be affected by the supplemental materials,” said Leone. “I think I made clear as I was stating my opinion on the motion that I was sort of drawing all the inferences in favor of Compass’s position and I was presuming that the DGA was in fact an organization that contributed to the election of Democratic governors, and that in all likelihood some money from the DGA would be spent upon either directly or indirectly in connection with the governor’s campaign.”

In April, the ethics commission voted 4-1 to dismiss the Hickenlooper complaint, saying that the governor earned an exemption from the gift ban by serving as host of the event and delivering remarks. The DGA waived the $10,000 attendance fee for Hickenlooper and also covered costs for two staffers at St. Regis Aspen conference.

The commission is expected to issue its written opinion on the complaint at its July meeting. Compass Colorado, a conservative group, noted in a press release that the commission could still amend or change its final decision to take into account the latest information.

But commissioners at Monday’s meeting said they weren’t inclined to revisit the ruling. Commissioner Bob Bacon said that even if he knew beforehand about the DGA’s intention to jump into the governor’s race, it wouldn’t have changed his vote.

“I concur with commissioner Leone that I would certainly accept this additional information, but it does not materially change my opinion of what I would like to do with the opinion as it’s been set out,” said Bacon.

The ads now running in the Denver media market are aimed at boosting former Rep. Tom Tancredo in the June 24 Republican gubernatorial primary while weakening former Rep. Bob Beauprez. The analysis is that Tancredo would be the easier candidate for Hickenlooper to defeat in the Nov. 4 election.

In the motion, Compass attorney Geoff Blue cited state law in arguing “a state official who uses state resources ‘primarily for partisan purposes, and therefore personal purposes . . . breach[es] the public trust for private gain.’”

“We’re not saying that the governor has anything to do with it–I have no idea–but the bottom line is that the DGA is running the ads, and that that shows the fundraising done by DGA helps Gov. Hickenlooper’s campaign,” said Blue. “And the governor used staff time to organize the Aspen event, which we believe is a part of the fundraising apparatus of the DGA and can’t be separated.”

During debate prior to the April 14 vote, however, commissioners said that governors have a unique role as heads of their parties and are not expected to abandon all political activity when they become governor.

Compass Colorado executive director Kelly Maher said the DGA’s involvement “only underscores our argument that the DGA Aspen event was a primarily partisan event.”

“The fact that a front group has been created by the Democrat Governors Association to help re-elect Gov. Hickenlooper by engaging in the morally questionable practice of attempting to sway the outcome of the opposite party’s primary election shows the committee has a primary purpose that is more than just ‘education’,” said Maher. “That the DGA is, again, using money raised with the help of Colorado state resources to support Hickenlooper’s campaign.”

The Compass Colorado brief argues that the DGA created an independent-expenditure committee on May 5 called Jobs & Opportunity Colorado, aimed at making donations “on behalf of Democratic candidates for governor.”

Hickenlooper is the only Democratic candidate for governor. Jobs & Opportunity Colorado made a $40,000 donation last month to Project New America, a left-wing campaign consulting group in Denver.

Both the Colorado Statesman and Fox31 have reported that the DGA helped fund ads run by Protect Colorado Values, although the Democrat-backed 527 committee registered June 1 and has filed no campaign-finance reports. The DGA has not commented publicly on the matter.