The state’s independent ethics commission on Monday rejected requests by attorneys for Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler to drop an investigation into his alleged inappropriate use of public dollars. Liberal-leaning Colorado Ethics Watch, which filed a complaint against Gessler with the four-member bipartisan Independent Ethics Commission, has produced records showing that taxpayers funded the secretary’s trip to attend a Republican National Lawyers Association event in Sarasota, Fla. at the time the Republican National Convention was taking place in Tampa, Fla. State law prohibits expenditure of state funds for anything other than “official state business purposes only.” The same applies for discretionary spending, though it is at the prudence of elected officials.
Gessler was reimbursed through his office’s discretionary fund for what has been recorded as “RNLA/RNC Trip, Sarasota and Tampa Bay.” The trip took place from Aug. 23-Sept. 1.
After lodging at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Sarasota, and following meals and airfare, the cost was $1,453. Gessler said he was forced to return a day early from the trip at a cost of $422 because of a threat to his family.
Ethics Watch has also turned the case over to the Denver District Attorney’s office to determine whether criminal charges may apply. The DA’s office continues to investigate.
At issue for Gessler’s attorneys — including prominent lawyers David Lane, Robert Bruce and Michael Davis — is whether the ethics commission is within its jurisdiction to investigate Gessler.
Davis on Monday argued that the issue does not concern Amendment 41, which prohibits most gifts more than $53 to public officials. Instead, said Davis, the commission could potentially be investigating a criminal matter, which would fall outside its jurisdiction.