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Politics and Government

Gov. Hickenlooper faces ethics complaint regarding his travel ahead of 2020

The complaint came from a nonprofit, Public Trust Institute, which is run by a former Republican lawmaker

Gov. John Hickenlooper speaking during a press conference in the west foyer of the Colorado State Capitol on Sept. 18, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper traveled in private jets, rode in a Maserati limousine and stayed at luxury hotels across the globe — all of which may have violated state ethics laws, according to a complaint filed Friday by a former Republican lawmaker.

The 187-page complaint alleges the Democratic governor accepted free travel from corporations or political donors as many as 17 times in violation of the state’s ethics laws in recent years. A constitutional provision known as Amendment 41 limits most gifts to $59 for elected officials and requires disclosure in certain instances.

If Hickenlooper paid the travel expenses from his own pocket, he is not required to disclose the expenses — and the complaint would be dismissed. But in other cases, limits and disclosure rules may apply.

The scrutiny comes as Hickenlooper is moving closer to a 2020 presidential bid after the creation of a federal leadership PAC and recent trips to campaign for Democrats across the country.

MORE: Read the complaint filed against Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Jacque Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the governor, issued a statement hours later that did not address the substance of the allegations nor questions from The Colorado Sun about who paid for the trips.

“It looks like the organization was created in the last few days to trump up frivolous accusations,” she said in a statement. “This is clearly a political stunt aimed at influencing the upcoming election.”

The complaint, first reported by The Denver Post, came from former Republican state House Speaker Frank McNulty under the name of a new nonprofit he founded called the Public Trust Institute. He filed the complaint with Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission and asked it to investigate 11 allegations in the past 12 months. Any older allegations fall outside the statute of limitations.

“The evidence that we uncovered shows a pattern of abuse, ethics violations and the other red flag was the cover up — redacting information from his public calendar related to these flights,” he told The Colorado Sun in an interview.

McNulty presented 171 pages of documents as part of the complaint that detail the governor’s travels. The complaint includes no evidence that the governor accepted the flights, accommodations and meals listed as gifts, rather than paying for them himself.

“If the governor did pay for them, we expect he will say so … and show evidence,” McNulty said. “If the governor is not able to show contemporaneous evidence that he paid for these things, the ethics commission has some real work to do.”

The complaint focuses on a trip Hickenlooper took to Turin, Italy, to attend the Bilderberg Meetings, an exclusive confab sponsored by corporations that featured world leaders, including the prime ministers of Netherlands, Serbia and Belgium. The document alleges four violations for the flight, hotel, meals and other transportation, including the chauffeured Maserati.

But in a video link included in the complaint, Hickenlooper tells an activist who confronted him in Italy that “I paid everything myself.”

The other travel in question includes a trip to Groton, Connecticut, for the commissioning of the USS Colorado. Records show he took a private jet owned by MDC Holdings. The company’s chief executive is Larry Mizel, a prominent Hickenlooper supporter who also served as a top fundraiser for President Donald Trump.

“This type of activity, traveling on a corporate jet and accepting other travel expenses from a Colorado corporation, is the precise activity that Amendment 41 is intended to prevent, and these activities are clear violations of state law,” the complaint states.

In response to open records requests from the Public Trust Institute, Hickenlooper’s office provided public schedules that include details related to his commercial air travel, including flight details, the name of the airline and the location of the airport, the complaint states. But for private air travel, those details were redacted.

McNulty said he created the nonprofit behind the complaint because “it became clear to us the need to have a group out there to just call balls and strikes.” He said it will highlight “people who are doing a good job … and flag other folks who are doing the other side of it.”

The organization hired researchers and attorneys to compile the information and works on donations. McNulty declined to identify the donors behind his effort.