Gover­nor lands in ethics case

Hick­en­looper ac­cused of not re­port­ing flights on pri­vate jets as gifts

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By David Migoya

An ethics com­plaint filed Fri­day against Gov. John Hick­en­looper al­leges the two­term Demo­crat has made a habit of criss­cross­ing the globe on pri­vate jets owned by wealthy bene­fac­tors and not dis­clos­ing the gifts as the law re­quires.

The 189­page com­plaint by the newly formed Pub­lic Trust In­sti­tute — a non­profit run by for­mer House Speaker Frank McNulty — lays out nearly 100 ques­tion­able flights Hick­en­looper has taken since Septem­ber 2011, when he first took of­fice, although it pri­mar­ily fo­cuses on those from the past year, which the state’s In­de­pen­dent Ethics Com­mis­sion is able to in­ves­ti­gate.

Each flight would cost into the thou­sands of dol­lars, PTI’s com­plaint al­leges, a far cry from the $59 gift lim­its each elected of­fi­cial in Colorado must abide by, the re­sult of Amend­ment 41, which vot­ers passed in 2006.

Hick­en­looper’s of­fice called the com­plaint friv­o­lous and a “po­lit­i­cal stunt” in a re­sponse late Fri­day af­ter­noon.

The com­plaint also ques­tions whether the gover­nor has ac­cepted other ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with

the flights, in­clud­ing stays at lux­ury ho­tels for all­ex­pense­paid events in Italy, Switzer­land and sev­eral states across the coun­try. Those events would also ex­ceed Amend­ment 41’s gift lim­its, the com­plaint says.

“Gover­nor Hick­en­looper’s ex­trav­a­gant travel habits have been the source of pub­lic spec­u­la­tion for years,” McNulty said in a news re­lease is­sued Fri­day. “Af­ter con­duct­ing ex­ten­sive re­search, we learned that the prob­lem is far more se­ri­ous than any of us could have re­al­ized.”

If Hick­en­looper per­son­ally paid for the travel and events up front, there’s no need to re­port them. If he ac­cepted any free­bies or even if he re­im­bursed his hosts af­ter the fact, he must re­port them, even if they are al­lowed un­der Amend­ment 41 rules.

The com­plaint comes from an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose leader is a Repub­li­can who has traded barbs in the past with the Demo­crat, who is ex­plor­ing whether to make a pres­i­den­tial run in 2020.

The group says it cross­checked the dates with Hick­en­looper’s cam­paign fi­nance re­ports and did not find any pay­ments. The gover­nor’s cam­paign com­mit­tee, Hick­en­looper for Colorado, ter­mi­nated in Oc­to­ber 2015 and was ze­roed out by Jan­uary 2016, records show.

“It looks like the or­ga­ni­za­tion was cre­ated in the last few days to trump up friv­o­lous ac­cu­sa­tions,” Hick­en­looper’s press sec­re­tary, Jacque Mont­gomery, said in the state­ment. “They ig­nored the In­de­pen­dent Ethics Com­mis­sion process by go­ing straight to the me­dia. This is clearly a po­lit­i­cal stunt aimed at in­flu­enc­ing the up­com­ing elec­tion.”

Com­mis­sion com­plaints are con­fi­den­tial and sub­ject to re­view be­fore an in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gins. PTI made its com­plaint avail­able on its web­site.

Hick­en­looper’s of­fice has been the fo­cus of at least one other ethics com­plaint deal­ing with travel ex­penses, in 2013, but the com­mis­sion said no rules were vi­o­lated.

Some events, such as the Bilder­berg Meet­ings in Turin, Italy — a gath­er­ing of high­pow­ered cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from around the world — are so ex­clu­sive and se­cret that “nei­ther the iden­tity nor the af­fil­i­a­tion of the speaker(s) nor of any other par­tic­i­pant may be re­vealed,” ac­cord­ing to the group’s web­site.

Much of the event is paid for by its spon­sors, which in 2018 in­cluded Fiat Chrysler, PTI’s com­plaint shows.

PTI also al­leges that Hick­en­looper ac­cepted a chauf­feured Maserati limou­sine and other ameni­ties at the June 2018 meet­ings — he was caught on cam­era at the air­port say­ing he had “no of­fi­cial state­ment” about why he was there, but said he paid for the trip him­self — in­clud­ing trans­porta­tion via pri­vate jet that PTI es­ti­mates to have cost as much as $10,000.

“Bilder­berg is a lux­u­ri­ous, cor­po­rately paid event to dis­cuss in­ter­na­tional af­fairs amongst global busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers,” the com­plaint says. “This is pre­cisely the type of event Amend­ment 41 is in­tended to re­strict.”

McNulty told The Den­ver Post that Hick­en­looper has an obli­ga­tion to prove whether he’s paid for the events or not.

“He doesn’t get a free pass to sim­ply say he’s paid for it him­self,” said the for­mer Repub­li­can state law­maker, who rep­re­sented House Dis­trict 43 from 2007 to 2015. “If he did, then show us. Ev­ery elected of­fi­cial in the Capi­tol has to abide by the same rules; not a sin­gle one of them is above the law.”

Hick­en­looper was one of 37 Amer­i­cans who at­tended the four­day event, ex­hibits at­tached to the com­plaint show, but the only politi­cian from the United States, open­ing ques­tions about whether the trip had any­thing to do with a po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial bid.

Hick­en­looper on Sept. 17 filed pa­per­work that formed the Giddy Up PAC, a fed­eral po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee that’s known as a lead­er­ship PAC, a com­mon step by pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rants that al­lows them to raise money on the fed­eral level.

Hick­en­looper’s term ends early next year, and he has said he won’t de­cide be­fore then whether to run for the White House.

An­other ques­tioned flight — from Vail to San Fran­cisco — was al­legedly to at­tend Su­per Bowl 50 in 2016 in which the Den­ver Bron­cos de­feated the Carolina Pan­thers. The com­plaint says the only planes that flew from the air­ports Hick­en­looper used were pri­vate jets and not com­mer­cial air­lin­ers. The com­plaint also ques­tions whether tick­ets to the sports event were also com­pli­men­tary.

If so, Hick­en­looper is re­quired by law to re­port who pro­vided the free­bies and the ap­prox­i­mate cost of each.

The com­plaint lists sev­eral other trips Hick­en­looper took on pri­vate jets it says were paid for by cor­po­rate en­ti­ties, none of them re­ported as gifts. They in­clude:

• March 2018 to Con­necti­cut for the ded­i­ca­tion of the at­tack sub­ma­rine USS Colorado on a plane owned by M.D.C. Hold­ings, whose CEO is Larry Mizel. Hick­en­looper went on to New York City by train.

• Jan­uary 2018 from New Jer­sey on an uniden­ti­fied pri­vate jet to Colorado.

• Au­gust 2018 to Jack­son Hole, Wyo., for the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute’s Jack­son Hole Sym­po­sium on an uniden­ti­fied pri­vate jet from Dal­las.

• Au­gust 2018 from Aspen to an un­known des­ti­na­tion.

• Septem­ber 2018 from Mon­treal to an un­known des­ti­na­tion.

“Gover­nor Hick­en­looper has ex­e­cuted a scheme to pre­vent re­view and scru­tiny of his ex­ten­sive travel on pri­vate jets,” the com­plaint says, not­ing Hick­en­looper’s of­fice fre­quently redacted any travel on pri­vately owned planes from open records re­quests for his sched­ule. Com­mer­cial flights, how­ever, were left unredacted.

“The with­hold­ing and redac­tion of in­for­ma­tion about … Hick­en­looper’s pri­vate air travel is car­ried out to con­ceal the fact that (he) rou­tinely ac­cepts pri­vate air travel that grossly vi­o­lates the ex­press re­stric­tions set forth in Amend­ment 41,” the com­plaint says.

Hick­en­looper is un­usual among the state’s high­rank­ing politi­cians in fil­ing just one gift­dis­clo­sure re­port — in 2017 for a $500 paint­ing given by the first lady of Zam­bia — since 2013. In that year, he said he had re­ceived only T­shirts and hats to the Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet Mu­si­cal worth just $90.

The paint­ing re­mains the prop­erty of state govern­ment; oth­er­wise Hick­en­looper would vi­o­late Amend­ment 41’s gift limit by per­son­ally keep­ing it.

Den­ver Mayor Michael Han­cock, on the other hand, in 2017 alone listed dozens of gifts he ac­cepted from a va­ri­ety of sources — a $3,684 Den­ver Ath­letic Club mem­ber­ship and a $9,000 flight on Nor­we­gian Air from Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port among them.

“This is a sit­u­a­tion ap­par­ently where Hick­en­looper thought he was above the law and con­tin­ues to jet­set around the globe, and that’s an ob­vi­ous red flag,” McNulty said.

PTI lays out a num­ber of other flights Hick­en­looper took be­fore 2018, which it says is proof of his long­stand­ing use of un­re­ported pri­vately paid travel, many of them on jets owned by Dou­glas County­based Lib­erty Me­dia Corp., run by bil­lion­aire John Mal­one.

Hick­en­looper’s wife, Robin, is se­nior vice pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment at Lib­erty Me­dia.

“If his wife ac­cepted the trip or the gover­nor, it must be re­ported,” McNulty said, “es­pe­cially be­cause the gover­nor was on the plane.”

Hick­en­looper’s of­fice has a his­tory of seek­ing guid­ance from the Ethics Com­mis­sion about ac­cept­ing gifts or other free­bies.

In April 2016, the com­ mis­sion de­ter­mined it would be a vi­o­la­tion of Amend­ment 41 for the gover­nor and a staffer to ac­cept re­im­burse­ment for travel and lodg­ing ex­penses from Gen­eral Elec­tric to at­tend a con­fer­ence in Florence, Italy. Hick­en­looper was the only Amer­i­can politi­cian in­vited to speak.

In July 2014, the com­mis­sion said the gover­nor’s leg­isla­tive direc­tor could ac­cept travel ex­penses for a fel­low­ship paid for by the Amer­i­can Coun­cil of Young Po­lit­i­cal Lead­ers.

An ethics com­plaint filed in 2014 said he and his staff wrongly al­lowed the Demo­cratic Gover­nors As­so­ci­a­tion to cover their ex­penses at a con­fer­ence a year ear­lier. The com­mis­sion ruled no rules were breached.

McNulty’s new group is de­signed to “en­sure that pub­lic of­fi­cials are gen­er­ally hold­ing them­selves to an eth­i­cal level,” he said, not­ing the group will pur­sue com­plaints ob­jec­tively and with­out po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion.

“In this day and age, since pol­i­tics slams to the left and right so quickly, we need some­one to call balls and strikes from the out­side,” McNulty said, re­fus­ing to iden­tify the group’s rev­enue stream or its mem­ber­ship. “The main fo­cus is me and hav­ing that out­ward­fac­ing fig­ure. That’s where we’re com­fort­able right now.”

McNulty was speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 2010 to 2012, over­lap­ping Hick­en­loop­ er’s elec­tion as gover­nor. The two tan­gled widely on the is­sue of civil unions, with McNulty re­fus­ing to al­low it to come up for de­bate on the House floor and the gover­nor call­ing for a spe­cial ses­sion in May 2012.

PTI ap­pears to fill the gap left by Ethics Watch, which closed at the end of 2017 for lack of fund­ing. The clos­ing left no en­tity specif­i­cally ded­i­cated to polic­ing the state’s pub­lic and elected of­fi­cials for ethics vi­o­la­tions.

“There’s no en­tity to keep them hon­est,” ac­cord­ing to its for­mer ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, Luis Toro, now an as­sis­tant city at­tor­ney in Boul­der. “It’s up to in­di­vid­u­als. There’s no one who’s ded­i­cated to this any­more.”

The Ethics Com­mis­sion first de­ter­mines if a for­mal com­plaint is friv­o­lous or not, mean­ing it de­cides if the mat­ter is too me­nial to be worth its time. Then it can in­ves­ti­gate and is­sue a re­port, which could in­clude a fine or other sanc­tion.

McNulty said the com­plaint against Hick­en­looper is ap­pro­pri­ate no mat­ter that he’s near­ing the end of his term as gover­nor.

“Just be­cause his po­lit­i­cal time in Colorado has come to an end doesn’t mean he’s al­lowed to skate,” McNulty said. “Folks have not taken a crit­i­cal look at the Hick­en­looper ad­min­is­tra­tion and what he’s done. In a case like this, with all the red flags pop­ping up, it takes a bit to put the dots in place, but once there, it doesn’t take too long to con­nect them.”

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