Scott Gessler gets extension for response to ethics investigation -- but only eleven days

Secretary of State Scott Gessler is touring the state this week, soliciting feedback from voters on the election. But in the meantime, attorneys for Gessler, who is facing both criminal and ethics investigations into the alleged misuse of public funds, are asking for more time to respond to the complaint against him at the Independent Ethics Commission. The full filings are on view below.

And at this morning's IEC meeting, the commission decided to grant Gessler's legal team an extension -- but only for an additional two weeks and not a full month-and-a-half as the attorneys requested.

After reviewing Secretary of State records on discretionary spending, Colorado Ethics Watch charged that Gessler, a Republican, spent public dollars for his own political activities outside the scope of his official duties as chief elections officer. In October, the organization asked the Denver District Attorney's office to launch a criminal investigation into the spending -- tied to a trip to Florida for a Republican election law training event and the Republican National Convention in Tampa -- and also filed a complaint with the Independent Ethics Commission.

News broke in November that the IEC and the DA would both be pushing forward with investigations, giving Gessler plenty of bad publicity leading up to election day.

Gessler and his staff have repeatedly said that he is innocent, dismissing the accusations as an unmerited attacks from a liberal group. But Ethics Watch says it is nonpartisan. The organization has investigated the spending behaviors of all statewide officials -- Democrats and Republicans -- and has only discovered this kind of wrongdoing at Gessler's office, CEW maintains.

Now, Gessler's attorneys want more time to respond to the IEC complaint -- an official part of the ethics investigation process.

Filed yesterday and sent to us this morning through an open ecords request with the IEC, a "motion for extension of time to respond" from Gessler's legal team asks that the deadline for a response be pushed back to February 1.

In November, Gessler was originally told he had until December 10 to respond. Of note, the filing says:

Following past practice, the Colorado Attorney General's Office instructed the Secretary to retain outside counsel, due to the potential of a conflict of interest. Although the Secretary diligently and promptly retained outside counsel, the current deadline does not give counsel adequate time to fully investigate and prepare a response.
On November 16, attorneys Bob Bruce and David Lane filed an open records request with the IEC seeking all relevant documents related to the complaint, the filing notes. But, the attorneys say, the commission has not yet produced the records, which they plan to utilize for his response.

"[H]e cannot respond before the Commission meets its statutory obligation to produce records relevant to his response. The lack of timely production has triggered a delay and necessitated additional time to receive and analyze the records. The Secretary may suffer unfair prejudice, absent the ability to review the records prior to submitting his response," the request says.

The request also points out that the Denver District Attorney's office is currently investigating these same criminal allegations. An IEC extension will give the DA's office time to conclude that investigation and won't interfere with the ethics investigation, the document states.

Also of note, the filing references "the intense publicity and politically charged nature of the complaint," arguing that the "public good" will best be served by allowing a complete opportunity for Gessler to respond to the allegations.

The exhibits Gessler's legal team has provided with its request, includes a Novembear 28 e-mail from Jane Feldman, the executive director of the Independent Ethics Commission, saying the open records request is almost done. However, the e-mail adds that the IEC is having difficulty obtaining "older financial records" and quotes Feldman expressing concern that a delay could mean that a hearing would not be scheduled before June 30.

The District Attorney's office, which began a fact-gathering process last month, has told us that the criminal investigation into Gessler will likely continue into next year.

Luis Toro, director of Ethics Watch, who attended this morning's IEC meeting, tells us that the commission decided to give Gessler's legal team an extension until December 21 -- an additional eleven days beyond the original December 10 deadline.

Toro says Ethics Watch is not taking any position on the request for an extension. In his view, the IEC should have discretion to decide about such a request. CEW's main goal, he notes, is a thorough investigation.

"We're letting the process go," he says.

Continue for the legal filings with the IEC from Gessler's legal team. Here is the official request for an extension. Secretary's Motion for Extension or Alternate Motion for Stay (1 of 2)

And here are supplemental documents related to the attorney's Open Records requests with the IEC. Secretary's Motion for Extension or Alternate Motion for Stay (2 of 2)

More from our Politics archive: "Scott Gessler didn't do enough to stop voter fraud, say critics at Arapahoe County event"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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Sam Levin
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