Senator Guilty of Ethics Violation in Corporate-Paid Town Hall on Oil and Gas "Facts"

Senator Guilty of Ethics Violation in Corporate-Paid Town Hall on Oil and Gas "Facts"
Senator Vicki Marble, a pro-fracking Republican from Fort Collins, was found guilty of violating the state constitution regarding ethics in government and gift bans for all elected officials and government employees.

Marble accepted a gift from Denver-based Extraction Oil and Gas in the form of a paid town hall meeting at a restaurant in Broomfield in February 2017, according to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, which fields ethics complaints for the state's legislative and executive branches of government. Marble was listed as a host on a panel discussion to supposedly present "the facts" on oil and gas development in the area, according to the event invitation. Extraction Oil and Gas, which has permits pending on 84 wells in Broomfield and has been sparring with residents over its proposed developments, picked up the tab for a private room, appetizer buffet and two free bar drinks for each attendee.

Broomfield resident Sarah Mann attended the event and filed the complaint, saying that she heard and witnessed firsthand Extraction spokesperson Brian Cain using his credit card to pay off the tab at the end of the night after the crowd had thinned out.

Marble never disclosed that the event was paid for by Extraction, nor did she report any in-kind contributions from Extraction on her quarterly gift report that April following the event. State law prohibits legislators from accepting gifts worth more than $59. The town hall was organized by Marble's legislative aide, and the invitation never disclosed Extraction's financial involvement.

Marble was fined $2,242.36 during Monday's ruling by the commission, double the cost of the event. Her office declined to comment ahead of any issued opinions by the commission, which are expected to be made public in the coming weeks. But she has publicly called for an appeal of the commission's ruling. Marble's attorney has argued that the senator had no involvement in planning the meeting and didn't know about Extraction's involvement in planning and paying for the town hall.

Extraction Oil and Gas was not immediately available for comment, and the commission declined to comment until after commissioner opinions are issued.

Extraction has been in the spotlight over numerous fracking issues along the Front Range. Since 2016, Broomfield residents have opposed proposed fracking on six drilling sites, which would include 84 wells, by Extraction Oil and Gas near homes and U.S. 36. That resistance came to a head last year when Broomfield residents passed ballot Issue 301 in the face of industry pushback, which gave the city and county land-use authority over oil and gas activity, as well as the power to require that all development be conducted in a manner that "does not adversely impact" the health, safety and welfare of residents and the environment. Extraction is still sparring with Broomfield over its permits as the city has called on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to not approve any until the company is in compliance with local regulations.

Extraction is also taking heat after the December explosion outside of Windsor, where a field worker was severely burned and hospitalized. An investigation report on the explosion filed a little over a month ago still provides no new answers as to why the explosion occurred, leaving communities like Broomfield even more suspicious of Extraction.

The company is suing six anti-fracking activists who staged a protest last month at the company's latest fracking site in Greeley next door to a middle school. The first activist named in the lawsuit was 23-year-old Colorado State University student Cullen Lobe, who chained himself to a bulldozer at Extraction's drilling site. Since the lawsuit was filed in March, five additional activists have been named in the lawsuit.

Here's the original complaint that was filed last year against Marble:

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Nora Olabi covers general and breaking news for Westword with an emphasis on politics and local government. Prior to making her way to the Front Range and joining Westword in 2017, she worked at major Houston newspapers. She's a proud Houstonian who's acclimating to snow and mountain living.
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