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Hickenlooper violated Colorado’s gift ban, ethics panel finds

Ex-governor is top candidate to take on GOP Sen. Cory Gardner

Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper was cited Friday for violating ethics rules for travel he took while governor.
Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper was cited Friday for violating ethics rules for travel he took while governor. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission found Friday that former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper violated the state’s ban on gifts for public officials while he was in office.

The panel found that Hickenlooper, the top candidate to take on Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in November, twice violated the ban as governor, Colorado Public Radio reported. The commission dismissed four other allegations brought by a group led by a former GOP state House speaker.

The complaints centered on Hickenlooper accepting trips on private jets while governor. According to CPR, the commission found that Hickenlooper violated the gifts ban when he traveled on a private plane to a U.S. Navy submarine commissioning in Connecticut and also when he attended a conference in Italy.

The commission’s decision comes after Hickenlooper testified via videoconference on Friday. On Thursday, he had refused to testify, arguing appearing virtually violated his right to due process. The commission held him in contempt for violating a subpoena.

The commission will meet again next week to determine the penalty for violating the gifts ban, and for refusing to testify, CPR reported.

In a statement after the verdict, Hickenlooper’s campaign noted that the vast majority of the allegations brought against the former governor were dismissed.

“The Republicans who launched these attacks pursued 97 allegations, and the Commission dismissed 95 — a result that shows you they’ve been focused not on the facts but on political smears,” Hickenlooper spokeswoman Melissa Miller said.

“Governor Hickenlooper spoke today about how he followed the guidelines in his travel to bring business to Colorado, which went from 40th in job creation to number one in the country while he was governor,” Miller said. “We fully expect the special interests who’ve exploited this process to continue to mislead Coloradans with negative attacks because they know John Hickenlooper will be an independent voice in the U.S. Senate.”

Gardner’s campaign declined to comment. But the National Republican Senatorial Committee criticized Hickenlooper in a statement Friday night.

“Hickenlooper has spent the last week refusing to testify, ignoring subpoenas, and being found in contempt because he didn’t want to answer for his serious disregard for Colorado’s ethics laws,” NRSC spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said. “He is guilty of shrugging off the state’s ethics rules and violating the trust taxpayers had placed in him as Governor.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has endorsed Hickenlooper in the race, sought to portray the ethics charge as a sign of Gardner’s weakness.

“Senator Gardner is the most vulnerable incumbent in the country,” DSCC spokesman Stewart Boss said in a statement. “Trailing in the polls and with nothing to run on, his Republican allies launched desperate attacks — but the commission saw through them and dismissed 95 of the GOP’s 97 allegations.”

Hickenlooper faces former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the June 30 primary to take on Gardner.

Colorado is a top pickup opportunity for Democrats looking retake the Senate, and Hickenlooper is considered a critical recruit, having previously been elected statewide. He decided to run for Senate after an unsuccessful bid for president.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilt Democratic.

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