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Scott Gessler investigation: Ethics Commission denies dismissal request, pushes forward

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The attorneys for Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who is accused of misusing state funds, have said there are many reasons why the case should be dismissed. The Independent Ethics Commission disagrees, voting yesterday to reject the dismissal requests. That means the investigation will continue -- but Gessler maintains that the complaint against him is nothing more than an unjust attack.

In October, Colorado Ethics Watch, an advocacy group that has closely scrutinized the Republican Secretary of State, accused Gessler of using public dollars to go to partisan events in Florida. The group has also alleged that Gessler, Colorado's chief election officer, may have unlawfully flushed out his remaining discretionary funds at the end of the fiscal year without offering receipts for reimbursements.

Gessler, who has said he is confident he will be exonerated, offered his first formal response in a December filing to the Independent Ethics Commission, or IEC. In it, he argued at length that state money was only used for official business and that his reimbursements have always been appropriate.

In that response, he also asked the IEC -- which had given him an extension for the filing -- to dismiss the case altogether.

In the dismissal motion (see it below), Gessler's legal team offered many reasons why the IEC should drop the matter. But yesterday, the commission voted unanimously that none of the arguments from Gessler merit a dismissal, says Jane Feldman, its executive director.

Feldman says the IEC held five different votes related to possible grounds for dismissal, and in each case, all the members felt there was not a legitimate reason to drop the case. That means Feldman will continue with her investigation and likely offer a report at the commission's next meeting, on February 4. At that time, the IEC will review her findins, after which the case could then be set for a hearing.

"The commission was right to go forward with the investigation," says Peg Perl, staff counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, who attended the meeting yesterday. "We...think that the IEC had the constitutional responsibility to investigate this matter. It's already been determined that it's not frivolous. We came in...hoping they would take that responsibility seriously and not cut it off prematurely.... This showed they are committed in following through."

Continue for more details on the IEC decision and the original filings from Gessler's legal team. The Secretary of State's original requests for dismissal cover a wide range of arguments about the scope of the IEC and the nature of the accusations from Colorado Ethics Watch.

One argument claims that the amendment in question does not apply specifically to expenditures. However, Feldman says the commission does not interpret its jurisdiction so narrowly.

Likewise, Gessler's attorneys believe the IEC doesn't have authority over criminal allegations. (The Secretary of State is also facing an investigation from the Denver District Attorney for his alleged misuse of funds). But despite these claims Feldman feels the commission does indeed "have jurisdiction over conduct that might also be a violation of criminal law."

Gessler's attorneys have said the complaint from Colorado Ethics Watch is frivolous, but the IEC has not interpreted it as such, which is why it decided to pursue the investigation in the first place.

The Secretary of State and his staff see CEW as a liberal organization that is only attacking Gessler for political, partisan reasons -- an argument that is part of his formal IEC response.

Perl says that CEW views that line of argument as unnecessary and a distraction.

"Questioning motives is a pretty common tactic...to intimidate the whistle blowers," she says. "Those types of personal attacks...are irrelevant and beneath the dignity of the Secretary of State."

Rich Coolidge, spokesman for Gessler, reiterates that the Secretary of State has not broken any laws and says he looks forward to moving past the issue once the IEC has completed its report. His statement says:

Secretary Gessler fully complied with the law and will continue to defend himself against these specious attacks. Even after two months, it is unclear what rule the Secretary is alleged to have violated. This confusion makes it difficult for the Secretary to defend against vague claims. We're anxious for the commission to finish its report so the Secretary can fully focus on serving the people of Colorado.

Continue for the original filings to the IEC. Here's the original motion to dismiss from Gessler's attorneys, filed last month. IEC response

And here's Gessler's full response to the complaint. Response to Complaint -- SEG (3)

More from our Politics archive: "Fiscal cliff deal: "Borrowing is economic cocaine," says Dick Lamm"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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