Scott Gessler investigation: Secretary of State wants "legal defense fund" to help pay attorneys

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Gessler has been able to use his office's legal budget to pay attorney fees to respond to the ethics inquiry at the IEC. But for the DA's criminal investigation, he is responsible for his lawyers' checks.

"The Secretary has to pay for it out of his pocket," says Coolidge. "In order to offset that...[this is] an opportunity for him to set up a blind account.... People can donate to it, but the secretary won't know who is giving money to it."

The request outlines a similar model at the federal level, in which the office holder appoints a trustee to manage the account and there are specific parameters on how contributions can be made.

Typically, the Colorado Attorney General's Office would represent Gessler in legal matters. But due to possible conflict of interest in the ethics inquiry, that office is not involved (although Gessler was allowed to use his office's budget to hire outside counsel).

Jane Feldman, executive director of the IEC, believes that two commissioners are in favor of allowing such a fund; one is opposed and one is undecided. (Feldman, as executive director, does investigations and makes reports but does not actually vote.)

She says the IEC will have a telephone meeting on the matter on January 17 and may issue an opinion immediately or shortly thereafter.

"The commission has the authority to give advice," she explains.

If the IEC wrote an opinion back deeming the fund appropriate, the resulting document would function as protection against litigation or further complaints against Gessler for his office's spending habits.

"They are really trying to create a new animal," says Peg Perl, staff counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, who attended the IEC meeting on Monday and listened to the Secretary of State proposal. The question, she says, is "What could be possible under our Constitution?"

Continue for the full proposal.

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Sam Levin
Contact: Sam Levin