Scott Gessler investigation: John Suthers offers support, accused of conflict-of-interest

Categories: News, Politics

But Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, which filed the original complaints that led to both investigations, says in the same way that it's inappropriate for Suthers to represent Gessler, it's wrong for him to come out in support of the Secretary of State's request.

Luis Toro portrait.jpeg
Photo by Mark Manger
Luis Toro of Ethics Watch
"Not only is the attorney general himself subject to Amendment 41, he is...subject to the temptation to have the Ethics Commission go easy on people," says Toro. "It's...completely unacceptable.... It creates a conflict-of-interest."

Jane Feldman, executive director of the IEC, is also not pleased with letter -- because it forced Assistant Attorney General Lisa Brenner-Freimann, who typically works closely with Feldman as the IEC's legal support, to recuse herself from the case.

"Personally, I'm disappointed that the AG sent the letter, given that it doesn't add anything to the discussion," says Feldman, noting that the argument offers no substantive analysis. Rather, it simply asserts that Gessler's request is appropriate.

Spending time handling this conflict, and losing Brenner-Freimann as a result, contributed to Feldman's decision to push back a scheduled telephone meeting to discuss Gessler's request, she notes.

She says it's a challenge that the AG's office can no longer advise the IEC in this case.

Toro argues that the current situation calls to mind to a larger problem his group has highlighted in the past. CEW has argued that IEC should have the resources to hire its own independent counsel as needed to avoid conflicts.

"John Suthers has said, 'I want them to approve it,'" Toro says, arguing that Brenner-Freimann could not be expected to work with the IEC in this case. "Your boss has said it should be decided a certain way."

Feldman feels situation is unique. "This has really been the first time it has...posed a problem for the commission."

Although the AG's office has appeared before the commission before -- and while there have been questions in the past about having the AG represent the IEC -- Feldman says, "This is the first time they have sent a letter of this nature."

Feldman says it's frustrating because she doesn't expect the letter to have an impact on the final decision.

"The commission obviously has reviewed [the letter], but because it doesn't have any analysis, I don't think it will sway them...or really have much effect," she says.

In regard to concerns about conflict-of-interest, Tyler, Suthers' spokeswoman, reiterates that the AG felt it was appropriate to weigh in because the issue doesn't end with Gessler.

"There are other elected officials in the state that are interested in the [Attorney General's] opinion," she says.

Continue for the full letter and for Gessler's original request.

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Colorado's Amendment 41 has some extreme reaches.  Even to the point that our elected officials can't have a meal provided for them at certain events.  And yes, I voted for it.  That said, my take on the AG's letter, creates the argument for all our elected officials to have the ability to raise funds for legal defense if need be.  Only reason why this story made Westword was because it was Republican on Republican action.  Sad the rules of the game are changed when the party is reversed.

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