"The Court is unconvinced."

Posted on March 13, 2014

Ethics thumbnail for issue buckets

Yesterday, a Denver District Court rejected Secretary of State Scott Gessler's claims that his rights were violated while being investigated by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission. Here's the back story. Colorado Ethics Watch filed a supplemental complaint with the Commission in October of 2012 asking that the Secretary be investigated for misuse of public funds. After an IEC ruling that the Secretary did in fact improperly use public funds for political activities and for personal gain, the Secretary filed suit against the IEC itself. He argued the IEC did not have jurisdiction over an ethics matter like his, among other things. Colorado Common Cause filed an amicus brief with the Court in defense of the IEC. (Colorado Ethics Watch also filed a brief)

From Common Cause's brief: "Not content simply to ask this Court to overrule the decision of the Independent Ethics Commission ("IEC") on the merits, the Secretary argues that the IEC lacked jurisdiction to even consider the complaint against him because the complaint did not assert a violation of Amendment 41's gift ban. The Secretary's argument, however, ignores the clear language of both article XXIX of the Colorado Constitution and C.R.S. 24-18.5-101, and is inconsistent with the constitutional and statutory purpose of the IEC. Adoption of this argument would have a profoundly negative impact on the ability of the IEC to serve its purpose to ensure that government officials conduct the people's business with the utmost transparency and integrity. This Court should reject the Secretary's argument."

The Court did reject his claims. To the Secretary's argument that the law is unconstitutionally vague, it answered "[t]he Court is unconvinced. The "_ statute is not unconstitutionally vague simply because it directs the agency to investigate ethics issues arising under published legal standards"_" To the argument that the IEC does not have jurisdiction, the Court answered that the plain language of the statute and Constitution does give it jurisdiction.

We agree with Luis Toro at Colorado Ethics Watch: "It is time for Scott Gessler to stop spending the people's money defending the indefensible."

The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission was created by the voters in 2006. In addition to this Commission designed to investigate ethics complaints, the voters also created a revolving door provision that included a cooling off period before elected officials could become lobbyists, as well as a gift ban for public officials. These are common sense protections to ensure the public's trust. Public officials should not be in the business of attacking an ethics commission.


Media Coverage

The Denver Post: Scott Gessler loses appeal over ethics ruling

The Colorado Independent: Denver court: Yes, Secretary of State Gessler breached public trust

7NEWS: Judge rejects Scott Gessler appeal in ethics complaint

Office: Common Cause National, Colorado Common Cause

Issues: Ethics, Ethics

Tags: State Ethics, Independent Ethics Commission

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