Secretary of State Scott Gessler's plan to moonlight for his old law firm because he couldn't get by on just $68,000 per year created an apparent conflict of interest of off-the-charts proportions and a golden opportunity for satire: See Kenny Be's hilarious Gessler cartoon and Jonathan Shikes's post naming Gessler Shmuck of the Week. But that's all over now: As the pressure peaked, Gessler backed down.
The move satisfied the likes of Colorado Ethics Watch, which had been among the first organizations to note that much of the work done by Gessler's old firm, Hackstaff Law Group, directly pertained to (yes) the Secretary of State's office. In a statement, CEW director Luis Toro said, "We're glad Secretary Gessler has decided not to moonlight for a law firm with clients who have business before the Secretary of State's office. It's just unfortunate that it took public outcry to make Gessler realize that what he was proposing was an ethical minefield."
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As for Gessler, his announcement tries to make his capitulation seem high-flown in the extreme -- a tough sell given that he had to have known how much money the job paid long before he declared his candidacy. Here's his mea culpa:
I'm writing to tell you about my decision regarding my plan to earn supplemental income through my previous law firm. As recently reported in the media, my goal has been to fulfill my duties as Secretary of State, but also to meet my family obligations. To that end I planned to work about five hours each weekend for specific clients on issues that had nothing to do with the Secretary of State's office. There were safeguards in place to avoid any conflict of interest.
At the same time, I wanted to be up-front and transparent with the people of Colorado, in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. So early on I chose to talk about this issue before doing any legal work whatsoever.
I carefully avoided recommending any higher compensation for elected officials, because it is truly an honor to serve as Secretary of State. But like many middle-class families in these tough economic times, I am trying hard to square my family obligations with my salary restrictions.
Over the past two weeks, many have asked that I publicly disclose client names. My former law firm has expressed great discomfort with this arrangement. Indeed, I cannot in good conscience expect anyone to subject themselves to public scrutiny, merely because I am doing some legal work for them.
For this reason, I have decided that I will not do any work representing clients through my former law firm. And while I have had substantial discussions with the Attorney General's office about outside employment, I have nonetheless asked the Attorney General to halt work on this issue. I have decided that I will not go forward with my initial plans.
At the end of the day, it is important that we focus on the things that will help Colorado. I have been hard at work finding ways to help Colorado's businesses and protect the integrity of our elections. In the past three weeks we've made good progress, but there's much work to be done.
I am confident that four years from now we will be able to look back and know that the Secretary of State helped make Colorado a more prosperous state and helped make our elections more honest and fair. And over the next four years, I will work hard to make these things a reality.