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Scott Gessler responds to ethics complaint with new details on death threats, his spending

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The response to the IEC also includes internal e-mails within the Secretary of State's office, in which several high-ranking staff members discuss the seriousness of the threats and communicate with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation about them. This, according to Gessler's filings, makes it clear that he needed to come home early -- a move for which his office paid $422.

The filing says:

Two violent threats in rapid succession - a serious, specific, local telephone threat, possibly linked to an earlier email threat of violence against the Secretary's family - caused great alarm. Heightening the alarm was the sudden, unusual nature of these threats. Indeed, prior to the two threats, the Secretary had never received a single death threat during 17 months in office.

An expenditure to respond to threats, his attorneys argue, is appropriate.

While these threats have gotten a lot of attention and will likely continue to as the investigations continue, they are only one piece of the puzzle. Ethics Watch has repeatedly said that the early flight home doesn't change Gessler's other spending choices, which it charges could amount to corruption and criminality.

Gessler's legal team says that his "actions were legal, proper, and fully within any applicable ethical standards." In its complaint, Ethics Watch says state law mandates that funds be used "for official state business purposes only."

Gessler receives $5,000 in discretionary funds each year and, the filing says, "for expenditure in pursuance of official business as each elected official sees fit."

Some have interpreted official business to include parties, clothing, receptions and more, his attorneys argue, noting that the Republican National Lawyers' Association trip involved election law, which is pertinent to his the duties of his office. Gessler also participated on a panel called "The Department of Justice, the Role of the States, and Voter ID," the filing notes.

In response to separate accusations that Gessler may have embezzled or misreported $117.99 that remained in his discretionary fund at the end of of the 2012 fiscal year, his attorneys argue that there are many expenses above that amount for which he has not sought reimbursements, such as his cell phone bill. The filing provides a lengthy list of expenses that he never reimbursed.

And, echoing Gessler's frequent comments on the matter, the filing presents Ethics Watch as an attack group with a vendetta against Gessler:

Accordingly, this Commission should dismiss the Complaint because [Ethics Watch]...seeks to manipulate the Commission's proceedings as part of a partisan, political campaign against the Secretary.

Luis Toro, director of Ethics Watch, says he hasn't received the entire response and hasn't had a chance to review it thoroughly yet. But he tells us that while he is very sensitive to the threats that Gessler has faced, but that doesn't excuse improper spending.

"Of course we sympathize with all public officials who receive those types of threats and it's all too common and completely unacceptable," he says, but adds, "That's $400 of the picture.... That's what it is. It certainly doesn't retroactively justify him going out to partisan political events in the first place."

On arguments that the Republican lawyers event was official business, Toro says that it was a personal trip -- which is what makes it inappropriate. "If you hold office parties, that's for the office. I think that would be perfectly reasonable," he adds.

But Toro does not think the discretionary fund should be used for clothing.

And he adds that "the fact that other people have abused the funds in the past" does not make it okay.

As for accusations that this is just a partisan political attack, Toro responses: "To make it about the complaining party is really just an attempt to silence whistleblowers."

Continue for the full documents from Gessler's legal team.

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Sam Levin
Contact: Sam Levin