Scott Gessler says he's innocent as Ethics Commission begins investigation
Amid the chaos of election-day preparation this week, news broke that Secretary of State Scott Gessler, Colorado's chief election officer, is facing both criminal and ethics investigations for allegedly misusing public dollars for personal trips. We now have more details on the process of the Independent Ethics Commission, which could lead to some kind of censure of Gessler if it determines that he violated the law.
In October, Colorado Ethics Watch, a good-government group, requested that the District Attorney's office and the Independent Ethics Commission launch investigations based on documents it unearthed through Open Records requests.
Ethics Watch, a left-leaning group, says it does not know the extent of potential corruption, but that records show Gessler used state funds to travel to Republican events this summer that were outside the scope of his work as the state's chief election officer and thus in violation of Colorado law. Ethics Watch has frequently gone after Gessler for what they see as inappropriate partisan behavior, but alleged misuse of public money, which the group says could rise to the level of embezzlement, reached a new level of concern for the organization.
Sam Levin Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
Gessler and his staff have emphatically denied all of these accusations, saying that no laws were broken and this is nothing more than an attack from a liberal group dedicated to going after the Republican official. (Ethics Watch says that it has investigated the state's top officials, both Democrats and Republicans, and only found a potential misuse of government money in the case of Gessler).
The controversy made headlines again this week when news broke on the eve of the election that both the DA's office and the Ethics Commission completed their initial reviews and are pushing forward with formal investigations.
We subsequently reached Jane Feldman, executive director of the Ethics Commission, who gave us more details on the process. A spokeswoman for the DA's office earlier told us that its official "fact-gathering process" had begun, adding that there is no deadline or timetable for how it will move forward
Feldman explains that when the Ethics Commission receives a complaint, it must determine whether it actually has jurisdiction over that person, and whether the subject matter amounts to an accusation of an ethical nature. In the case of the Ethics Watch complaint, the criteria was determined to fit, which is why the commission is moving forward with a formal investigation.
The fact that there is a simultaneous criminal investigation at the DA's office could complicate the Ethics Commission review, Feldman says.
If witnesses are called for the DA's investigation, they could claim Fifth Amendment rights, potentially delaying Ethics Commission hearings.
Feldman says she will be sending Gessler's office a copy of the complaints, to which he must respond within thirty days. Depending on the timing, a hearing may not happen until next year, she says.
Generally, she adds, the commission tries to get complaints finalized within six months.
Continue for more details of the Ethics Commission investigation and Gessler's response to the allegations.