making local government more ethical

Attacking Instead of Asking

According to an article in the Denver Post last week,these are the words of Colorado's Secretary of State after the state ethics commission found him in violation of an ethics provision, on account of using state funds to attend the Republican national convention last year:
"As we said from the start, I've had grave concerns about this tribunal's ability to be fair and objective. Every attempt we made to expose the truth and the facts in the case were met with resistance or rejected outright. Instead of impartial, engaged commissioners, I faced a group of my political adversaries. In fact, two commissioners have donated to my political opponents, and they both unsurprisingly ruled against me."
But consistent with a Denver Post editorial, here is what he should have said:
I could have avoided this proceeding, and saved taxpayers over $100,000, had I just sought an opinion from the ethics commission before taking the trip.
He also should have said, about political contributions by EC members, "A few of the ethics commissioners, from both parties, made contributions to candidates from their parties, making them appear biased. It's good that no party has a majority on the commission, but large campaign contributors should not be appointed to the commission, and commissioners should not be allowed to make any contributions while in office."

But instead, the Secretary of State ignored the fact that Republicans who gave to Republican candidates found him in violation, too. Instead, he threw up a partisan smokescreen to hide his double guilt:  violating the ethics code and failing to seek ethics advice.

He did not only attack the ethics commission after the fact, however. According to an op-ed in the Colorado Statesman by the executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, which filed the ethics complaint, the Secretary of State's attorney made "personal attacks on the two Democratic commissioners and the Executive Director [of the EC], [filed] two lawsuits, [and made] a failed attempt to convince a Denver district judge to block the proceedings."

The Secretary of State could do all this, because his own office was paying his legal fees. He had absolutely no incentive to settle or to play fair. What he did originally is nothing compared to what he did with respect to the ethics proceeding. If he cared about the waste of public funds and the public's trust in its leaders, he would pay his legal fees back to his office, and stop blaming everyone but himself.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics