Kelley & Company, Scott Gessler, June 14, 2013
Station: KNUS, 710 AM
Show: Kelley & Company
Date: June 14, 2013
Topics: Independent Ethics Commission, Colorado Ethics Watch, Fines, Partisan, Non-Partisan, Republican National Lawyer’s Association, Republican National Convention, Candidate for Governor, Colorado Supreme Court, Clifton Gunderson Accounting Firm, Audit, Comptroller. Travel Budget, Discretionary Fund, Mike Coffman
GUEST HOST JIMMY SENGENBERGER: All right, so, [I] want to go to the VIP line one more time, where we have another potential candidate for governor, as we teased before the break. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has suspended his re-election bid for Secretary of State and moved to focus on a determination as to whether or not he is going to run for governor. So, he is currently going through that step, visiting Colooradans throughout the state and getting that input. That has been described in reports over the past few weeks, since filing for consideration to run for governor, to basically let people know that he was looking into it, now it’s a real serious step to see, well, what is the lay of the land. As we’ve seen in the Quinnipiac poll that came out yesterday, he is almost tied with Governor Hickenlooper and he hasn’t even formally announced. That’s very interesting, along with Tom Tancredo being essentially tied with Governor Hickenlooper, doesn’t bode well. But unfortunately for Secretary of State, there is a situation that has brewed yesterday – it’s really been going on for months, where this left-wing group, the Colorado Ethics Watch, which claims to be non-partisan but has been involved in partisan activities in the past, they filed a complaint against Scott Gessler, the Secretary of State, again, last October asserting that he had inappropriately used the Secretary’s discretionary fund to pay for a trip to a Republican’s Lawyers conference in Florida last year around the same time as the Republican National Convention. And yesterday, this Colorado Ethics Commission – Independent Ethics Commission that looked into it, asserted that he breached the public’s trust for private gain. But what is Secretary Gessler’s side of the story, because there is more to it than meets the eye. Secretary Gessler, welcome back to Kelley & Company. It’s good to talk with you this morning.
COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE SCOTT GESSLER: Well, thanks for having me on.
SENGENBERGER: So, what can you tell us about this? You have just been required to pay a good sum of money, some of which you have already paid back, in terms of about $1278 that you have already paid back. What’s going on here? What were the accusations, as you’ve seen them? What was your take on the response? And then, what’s your side of the story?
GESSLER: Well, you know, it’s awfully frustrating, here. What happened is I attended a legal conference. And, uh, you know, I think you described the accusations. And it was put on by the Republican National Lawyer’s Association. But it focused on election law, and my job is elections. And the frustrating part is the Colorado Supreme Court accredited this – approved it for legal education credits. The state controller said it fell within my job duties. We had an audit where we brought in an outside person who audits state and local government from one of the big accounting firms here in Colorado, Clifton Gunderson. He said it was perfectly appropriate for me to do this stuff, because, you know, I mean, when you go out you learn about what other people are doing in the elections world that helps run better elections here for people of the state of Colorado. But the Ethics Commission, unfortunately, is a just very partisan-driven organization. You know, I mean, two of the members have actually contributed to Hickenlooper, –sort of really staunch partisan Democrats. It was pretty clear seven months ago which direction these guys were going. It took them eight months to figure out how to do it. But it was really sort of an unfair process, and it’s frustrating, because you want to think that these guys are going to be fair and even-handed and you want to think that the IRS is going to be fair and even-handed, and you want to think that, you know, things work. But they just really don’t a lot of the time. So we are going to be appealing. I’m pretty confident that we’re going to get it overturned because of the way these guys handled themselves.
SENGENBERGER: I’m curious, Secretary Gessler, about this because obviously, we haven’t seen the report yet. I don’t know, and you can answer this, I’m sure, if this report is, if they came out with – what the Commission came out with yesterday, is going to be released to the public. But I’m curious as to what the Independent Ethics Commission claimed you violated in terms of a statute, rule, or anything in the Constitution that might be in play?
GESSLER: Right now I just don’t know.
SENGENBERGER: So, you don’t really know.
GESSLER: I just don’t know. No, I really don’t know. They, uh — I mean they had deliberations and they said that learning about elections is not official business, which just sort of seems crazy when everyone else disagrees with them. But I really don’t know. And that was one of the frustrating things. We spent seven months trying to get them to tell us what the legal standards were. And then a month ago they said the legal standards could be one of these two things or they could be something else, and we’ll tell you afterwards. And so we still don’t know. So, I mean, maybe when the draw up the report they’ll sort of tell me at that point. But that’s one of the frustrating areas. They just sort of make up the rules as they go along.
SENGENBERGER: Now, one of the charges here is that, “Oh, my gosh! It was a partisan event”, because you went to a – it was a Republican-based conference, even though you were focused on election law, you were a speaker. What do you make of the argument that, well, that you shouldn’t have done it, used discretionary funds, taxpayer money, for something that had a partisan tilt to it?
GESSLER: Well, I mean, it didn’t have a partisan tilt. That’s the bottom line… I mean, the Colorado Supreme Court reviewed it and said that it was proper, you know, educational materials, –that it wasn’t partisan. We produced a three-hundred-page binder of all the materials that were discussed. None of it was partisan stuff. It was legal, you know, nuts and bolts. Like I say, the comptroller reviewed it and said it was, you know, — in his testimony at the hearing, said it was appropriate. Uh, you know, we had experts come in and review it and said it was appropriate. I know it’s got the word Republican in front of it, that was the sponsoring organization, but it was not a partisan event. It was straight-up education. And all the evidence before the commission said that. But they are not really interested in the evidence before them. It was a very partisan-driven outlook.
SENGENBERGER: Now, this issue over just – I mean, eighteen hundred dollars. It cost Colorado taxpayers at least a hundred and forty-three thousand dollars to do this investigation, and the legal fees from the Commission, your office, and so forth. That – I think – my opinion from going back to when this was first filed back in October, and as I’ve been following this, is that it is—it has been a politically motivated ‘gotcha’ scheme from the start. But the question that I have – we know that there was going to be such a waste of this money,– I mean, I had—you know, I saw the writing on the wall in the beginning, that they were going to end up doing what I think was the wrong thing in this judgement, Secretary Gessler. But if that was almost a certainty of the outcome, why — I’m curious as to why you ended up paying back the uh, –what was it? Fourteen-hundred, or twelve-hundred, something like that you chose to pay back?
GESSLER: Yeah. $1278. Here’s why. I’m just trying to move on when it comes to what goes on with the people of the state of Colorado. But, the money here has been an absolute waste. The last Republican Secretary of State we had, Mike Coffman, also received a complaint from the same organization in front of the same ethics commission. And that cost probably about probably $100,000 to dispute. So these types of frivolous things have cost the state around a quarter million dollars already. And it is just sort of absurd. And you want to put it behind you. You want to have fair elections. You want to move on to trying to make it easier for people to do business and have jobs in the state of Colorado and things like that. I’m trying to put it behind me. I’m trying to push forward. And of course it’s a very vindictive organization and they’re not interested in that–the ethics commission. So that was the purpose. And I was very clear. Look, I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong. I don’t think we’ve ever done anything wrong. But $1,278 is a pretty big distraction when there’s been hundreds of thousands spent arguing over it. Let’s try to put it behind us. Let’s try to move forward. But, you know, even that’s not acceptable because the Ethics Watch organization—no I’m sorry—Ethics Commission. They all sort of blend together after a while.
GESSLER: They’re not really interested in that. They’re interested in progressive [inaudible] because they know there’s an election coming up. So they can use this as a way to generate television ads and what not. I mean, that’s really what it’s about. So it’s very frustrating.
SENGENBERGER: [The left is saying you should have used funds from the travel budget, not the discretionary budget.]
GESSLER: They are really sort of nonsensical. I mean, they’re saying I should have used a different fund rather than this fund to go. But it was ok, but if it wasn’t ok, then I shouldn’t have done it. It’s absolutely nonsensical. What it is is a talking point. A talking point. There’s no sense or coherence. Bottom line. Everybody who’s reviewed this, except of course the Ethics Commission, the Colorado Supreme Court, an outside auditor, the State Comptroller, said this was absolutely appropriate for me to do. That’s the bottom line. The left can jabber all they want, and, of course, the Ethics Commission is part of the left. I mean they are driven by my political adversaries. I mean those are the people who judged me on this. They can jabber all they want. We now go before a real court, the district court and federal courts here. We’re going before a real court with real-world procedure. And this is just a stop on the way going forward, because, look, if you believe in this. You shouldn’t have a government agency that’s politically driven that chews people up. We’ve seen that at the IRS. We’ve seen that with the Ethics Commission. Look at it from that standpoint. I’m not going to stand for it.