The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission decided Monday to proceed with a hearing Friday on whether Secretary of State Scott Gessler misused office money, including nearly $1,300 to go to Florida last year for a Republican lawyers conference. While in Florida, he attended the Republican National Convention, then bought a new ticket to fly home early after an e-mailed threat against his family. Gessler repaid the money on May 23. Gessler, a Republican, is considering a run for governor next year. Commissioners, in a telephone conference call, didn’t speak directly to the reasons for pressing on. Nor did representatives from Gessler’s defense or Colorado Ethics Watch, which filed the complaint.
Gessler’s spokesman, Rich Coolidge, said Ethics Watch would not agree to jointly dismiss the case. “The secretary has no choice but to fully defend himself from these partisan attacks in front of a biased and disorganized commission,” Coolidge said in an e-mail.
Luis Toro, the executive director of Ethics Watch, said Gessler’s offer was to pay the disputed amount of money and not incur any other fine or other punishment. Negotiations never got far, he said.
“To me, that would send a message to public officials that it’s OK to play with house money … and then if you get caught, just pay back the principal when it gets close to a hearing,” he said.
The Ethics Commission, however, would decide whether to dismiss the case, and Gessler’s legal team made no request to do that Monday.
Taxpayers are picking up the tab for much of the case, which began when Ethics Watch filed the complaint in October. The secretary of state’s office has spent more than $81,000; the ethics commission had spent about $62,000 through April.