Scott Gessler should be investigated for misuse of public funds, says Colorado Ethics Watch
Scott Gessler is not only making it harder for people to vote, he's using public funds to help support the Republican Party. At least that's the charge of Colorado Ethics Watch, an advocacy group that is accusing the Secretary of State of spending public dollars to fund trips to political events. With a call for a criminal investigation, these allegations may be the most controversial Gessler has faced in the months before the election.
Gessler's office denies these allegations and is coming down hard on Ethics Watch in response -- accusing the liberal group of launching a baseless, partisan attack on a Republican official in Colorado.
This latest battle for Gessler is one that raises more serious questions of criminality and corruption that the Secretary of State has not faced before. His critics have mainly gone after Gessler for spending too many resources on weeding out illegal immigrant voters when his opponents say he should be focused on voter registration as the state's chief election officer. Gessler says he is simply preventing fraud and cleaning up voter rolls.
Sam Levin Scott Gessler at a press conference last week.
But these latest allegations are much harsher than accusations of misplaced priorities or voter suppression and intimidation. This is perhaps why his spokesman is fighting back with sweeping criticisms of the organization.
According to Ethics Watch, a frequent critic of Gessler, the Secretary of State misused public funds by attending a Republican election law training event and the Republican National Convention in Tampa over the summer. The group charges that he submitted reimbursement forms to the state for those political events and misrepresented the nature of his visit on official forms.
"It's not state business to help Republicans defeat Democrats," says Luis Toro, Ethics Watch director. "You have discretionary funds, but you don't have the discretion to stick it in your pocket."
Gessler attended a Republican National Lawyers Association election law training in Sarasota, Florida on August 24 and 25 and then went to Tampa, Florida on August 26 to spend the week there during the Republican National Convention. Gessler's request for reimbursements, obtained by Ethics Watch through open-records requests and on view below, say that the nature of the spending was not "personal or political."
He requested $1,452.52, as is seen here in the official note to Heather Lizotte in the Secretary of State's office.
In a letter sent to the District Attorney for the Second Judicial District and the Denver Police Department -- requesting a criminal investigation into Gessler -- Ethics Watch writes:
Courtesy of Ethics Watch
RNLA is a private organization of lawyers dedicated, among other things, to "advancing Republican ideals" through "a nationwide network of supportive lawyers who understand and directly support Republican policy, agendas and candidates."The letter lists various laws against public corruption that Gessler may have broken, including embezzlement of public funds and knowingly making a false entry in official forms. The latter accusation relates to part of his request for reimbursement that says: "These expenses were incurred while meeting with constituents, county clerks, lobbyists, staff and legislators to discuss state business."
State law says that funds must be used "for official state business purposes only."
Toro says this situation is a lot more serious than his group's previous concerns with the Secretary of State's office.
"It was an abuse of his official power to help his political agenda. This is crossing over into financial gain -- that's the real difference," Toro says. "[He was] using state money to preserve campaign funds and his personal funds."
Toro says he wasn't entirely surprised by this discovery. "Given his history...if anyone is going to use public money to promote your own party, unfortunately, it's going to be [Scott Gessler]."
In addition to the request for a criminal investigation, Toro also filed a complaint with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, asking it to investigate Gessler's misuse of public funds and fine him for his actions.
However, Gessler's office says no funds were used for the RNC in Tampa and adds that money was spent for state purposes at the RNLA event. Complicating the situation further, the Secretary of State's office also says that Gessler, while he was abroad, received death threats and was required to cut his trip short.
Continue for the response from Gessler's spokesman, plus the full letter and complaint from Ethics Watch.