While crowing earlier today about an Institute exposé focusing on uncompleted conflict-of-interest forms that embarrassed the Bill Ritter administration, the Independence Institute's Jon Caldara scoffed at the notion that Colorado Ethics Watch might take action against the Democratic governor's office. "They file complaints on any Republican at any time," he said. "I'd be curious what percentage of their complaints are filed against Democrats."
To that, CEW director Chantell Taylor replies, "It's an ironic question. I'd like somebody to ask him how many times he's gone after any Republican" -- like, for instance, gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry, the target of Ethics Watch's just-filed Colorado Open Records Act request, and Representative Mike Coffman, who's charged Taylor with ethics violations of her own.
Regarding the Penry matter, Taylor says it's far too early to draw any conclusions: "We're just trying to get to the bottom of recent media reports about how Penry's campaign obtained e-mail addresses. We made the CORA request to find out exactly what's going on, if anything."
No need to ask that question in regard to the Ritter situation. The governor's office has confirmed an Independence Institute report that only one of his cabinet members filed paperwork as required by a 1999 executive order, and they've issued a new edict that pretty much duplicates the previous one. So why not weigh in? Taylor says doing so would be pointless. "There isn't a penalty or enforcement mechanism built into either the old or new executive order," she points out. "The best you could hope for out of a complaint would be disclosure, and in adopting the new order, it's clear the Ritter administration is publicly committed to disclosure going forward -- and we're going to be watching to make sure those disclosures are actually filed. So there's nothing else to be gained by filing." She adds, "Why isn't anyone asking why [the Independence Institute] isn't filing a complaint, if they feel so strongly about the merits of this issue? Why are they expecting us to do their work for them?"
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Regarding accusations of partisanship, Taylor notes that "we've been critical of District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, we've listed Wes McKinley on our most unethical list, and we've been at odds and critical of the Ritter administration at times. And there's a whole list of activities we've done that are completely nonpartisan, including spending countless hours working with the Independent Ethics Commission on their rule-making and their complaint process even before they'd opened their doors. So calling us partisan is a little like the pot calling the kettle black coming from a shop like the Independence Institute. They've made their biases absolutely clear."
As for Coffman, he was the subject of an Ethics Watch gripe dating back to his stint as Colorado's Secretary of State, and while the Independent Ethics Commission cleared him of ethical wrongdoing in April, he's still so mad all these months later that he wrote a letter to the state Supreme Court accusing Taylor of violating ethics. Here's her take on the issue.
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"He's claiming we misrepresented the findings of the IEC in our press release by stating that they found Coffman had technically violated state law, but that the violation was mitigated by his remedial action," she says. "And the findings speak for themselves. On page thirteen of the decision, there's a very clear statement that the IEC found there was a violation of state law. We didn't say the IEC found that Coffman violated ethical standards of conduct; that's what they cleared him of. But in discussing state statutes and state personnel rules, they said there was a technical violation of state law. So our release was accurate, and we stand by it."
In the meantime, she goes on, "the big-picture question is, Why is he spending his time on this when there are other issues to be dealt with in his official capacity as a congressman? He filed this in his name five months after the fact. It really looks like he's got such a tremendously bruised ego that he's trying to smear my reputation in retaliation."
Taylor doesn't expect any permanent damage to be done. "We have twenty days to file a response with the Attorney Regulation Counsel, and we're still in that period. But his complaint is utterly frivolous, and we expect that it will be summarily dismissed."
If so, that'll leave Taylor time for other things -- including debating with Jon Caldara whose organization is more nonpartisan.