Reporters should question how Gessler could take Hackstaff clients and avoid appearance of impropriety

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler tells The Denver Post that, if he moonlights for his former law firm, which specializes in election law, he’ll disclose the names of clients he’s working for.

But reporters should ask him if this solves his conflict-of-interest problems.

On KHOW’s Caplis and Silverman Show Monday, host Craig Silverman asked Gessler if his Hackstaff-Law-Group clients might have other work with the firm, outide of their narrow work with Gessler, that relates to the Secretary of State’s office. 

It’s a good question, because if Gessler’s clients were using the firm for an issue connected to the Secretary of State’s Office, even if Gessler himself works on a different case with them, then there would still be the appearance of a conflict of interest, because these clients would paying the Hackstaff Law Group for non-election-related work (access to Gessler included wink wink) and election-related work (no acess to Gessler included wink wink).

So you’d expect Gessler to have answered Silverman with an easy, yes, his clients’ entire body of work with the Hackstaff Law Group wouldn’t touch his state work at all.

But instead, Gessler answered, “Generally, yes,” meaning, as I see it, that some of his clients’ work with the Hackstaff Law Group might, in fact, involve the Secretary of State’s office:

Craig: What about clients whom you’d be working for? Would it be that they wouldn’t have any use for that law firm on any issue that could touch the Secretary of State’s Office.

Gessler: I think the answer is generally yes, generally yes. And from my knowledge of the firm, since I used to be part of it, there are a lot of clients there. They do a lot of transactional work.  But also litigation work, for example two people who have a property dispute or an appellate action where they are helping client that’s just very limited to a specific  project, whether it’s a specific litigation or Court of Appeals project or something along those lines that doesn’t touch the Secretary of State’s Office.

I wish Silverman had asked what “generally yes” means, but it’s not too late for him or a reporter to do so.

And there’s more to ask, while reporters are qizzing Gessler.

Even if all of the Hackstaff Law Group’s work with all of Gessler’s clients does not touch the Secretary of State’s office at the time they are working with moonlighting Gessler, what about later? What if his clients come to the firm a year later with a case involving the Secretary of State’s office? Would the Hackstaff Law Group reject their business, because they were tainted by their contact with Gessler, in a paid-client capacity, previously?

One could argue that clients may pay the Hackstaff Law Group to gain access to Gessler on a case about, say, property rights, with the intention of making Gessler feel more favorable toward them when they bring a future case, using the Hackstaff Law Group (wink wink), about an election issue.

These are questions about the appearance of impropriety, not accusations or expectations about impropriety. But they’re issues that journalists should address with Gessler.

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