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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks outside the state Capitol. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday sternly criticized the state’s Independent Ethics Commission for advancing a complaint against him about travel costs, saying that he covered the expenses himself.

Specifically, in a legal response to the complaint, Hickenlooper’s attorney argues the travel costs were allowed under the rules either because they were for official business or gifts from friends exempt from disclosure.

“In short, the IEC must be willing to draw a line where political actors launch political crusades, seeking this commission’s legitimacy for their exercise,” the term-limited Democrat’s attorney wrote in a 15-page document. “This complaint does not meet that test of substance.”

The response comes after the panel ruled the complaint, brought against Hickenlooper in October, was not frivolous. It alleges he 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.

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

MORE: Read Gov. John Hickenlooper’s response

The complaint came from a nonprofit called the Public Trust Institute, which is run by former Republican state House Speaker Frank McNulty.

McNulty earlier told The Colorado Sun that he had uncovered “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.”

The complaint comes as Hickenlooper inches toward a potential 2020 presidential bid and as he prepares to leave office in January.

“At no time have my actions violated the letter or spirit of Amendment 41,” Hickenlooper said in a written statement Wednesday evening, citing the section of the Colorado Constitution housing ethics laws. “The response underscores the frivolous nature of the allegations. We anticipate the matter will be resolved quickly and in our favor.”

The complaint focused on a trip Hickenlooper took to Turin, Italy, to attend the Bilderberg Meeting. In his response, the governor repeated earlier claims that he personally paid for all expenses related to his travel and stay at the meetings.

“There was no gift made by any third party and thus no violation,” the response says.

Hickenlooper’s attorney, high-powered Democratic campaign finance expert Mark Grueskin, added in the filing that the complaint is “factually wrong in certain places and it is legally wrong elsewhere.

“As a matter of fairness, it should be dismissed now,” Grueskin wrote.

MORE: Read more politics and government coverage from The Colorado Sun.

The friends noted in the response include: Kimbal Musk, owner of The Kitchen restaurants and brother of Tesla founder Elon Musk; Denver real estate developer Larry Mizel; TeleTech founder Ken Tuchman; and Hickenlooper’s chief of staff Pat Meyers.

The governor’s office hired Grueskin to respond to the complaint, in part to avoid any conflict with the Colorado attorney general’s office, a Hickenlooper spokesman said. The attorney general represents the ethics commission.

It’s not clear how much the state will pay for the outside counsel.

Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.


The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...