DENVER (AP) — U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper defended his record Friday at a state ethics hearing about travel on private jets he took as Colorado governor, one day after the ethics panel found him in contempt for failing to appear.
Hickenlooper rejected claims he violated Colorado law by accepting trips and insisted they either involved personal business or happened while he was touting Colorado’s economy to potential investors during his 2011-2019 term.
“We needed to turn our economy around, and that would require me to be salesman in chief,” Hickenlooper said at one point.
The former governor’s absence Thursday before the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission drew fire from his Democratic primary opponent, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, as well as national Republicans seeking to defend U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s seat in November. The primary is June 30.
It also earned him a contempt citation from the commission, a quasi-judicial body that could consider fines if it rules against Hickenlooper.
Commissioners were to deliberate on the complaint later Friday.
Hickenlooper had long sought an in-person hearing to confront his accusers, and The Public Trust Institute, a conservative group that brought the complaint, didn’t oppose that request. Commissioners ultimately set this week’s remote hearing, noting the format adopted because of the coronavirus pandemic worked for civil cases not requiring juries in Colorado courts.
The institute, led by a former Republican speaker of the Colorado House, alleged that Hickenlooper violated Colorado’s ethics law by taking free flights on private jets as governor. Hickenlooper has denied the accusations as politically motivated.
Colorado law at the time prohibited gifts worth more than $59 to elected officials with limited exceptions. That figure is now $65.
The complaint dealt with travel to Turin, Italy, for a meeting of government, business and financial leaders, and a separate trip to Connecticut on a jet owned by billionaire Larry Mizel’s company, MDC Holdings, to preside at the commissioning of the USS Colorado, a U.S. Navy submarine. MDC Holdings is a large developer in Colorado.
Institute attorney Suzanne Staiert repeatedly asked Hickenlooper whether he felt that $1,500 he paid personally to attend the Turin affair covered hotel costs, shuttles, tours of cultural attractions, dinners and cocktail hours at an event sponsored by Chrysler-Fiat. “To my knowledge I felt I paid the full cost,” Hickenlooper replied, adding he was invited to attend not as governor but in a private capacity.
Staiert asked how it would look to the public to fly on an MDC Holdings jet to the USS Colorado commissioning and not pay for it.
“What I was really focused on is that we could present a unified front before various high ranking officials in the U.S. military,” he replied, adding later: “Mr. Mizell and I don’t agree politically, but he has been a supporter of our military as long as I’ve known him. … In that instance our interests aligned.”
Staiert questioned Hickenlooper about other trips he accepted from corporate figures who were friends.
Hickenlooper repeatedly insisted he either was not on state business, had offered to pay personally for the travel or accepted the travel to save time for pressing state business, among other reasons. He said he and his cabinet reviewed each trip for possible ethics violations.
Hickenlooper appeared at the remote hearing one day after his attorney, Mark Grueskin, suggested he could testify remotely later this month, despite a commission subpoena ordering Hickenlooper to testify Thursday. The commission rejected Grueskin’s idea.
The ex-governor acknowledged that on several occasions he either didn’t seek an opinion from the ethics commission on individual gifts. He also acknowledged he didn’t get formal training on Colorado ethics law.
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