UPDATED: GOP State Legislator Takes Legally-Questionable Gift from Oil & Gas Group

Colorado Confidential has learned that State Rep. Bill Berens (R-Broomfield) accepted $20,000 from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in an apparent violation of a new law prohibiting legislators from taking cash contributions.

Oddly, Berens ratted himself out by reporting the contribution in a gift and honoraria disclosure form filed with the Secretary of State on September 14.

The memo line of the check indicates that the gift was a prize for shooting a hole-in-one at the trade group’s golf tournament sponsored by a trove of international oil, gas, and financial interests. That’s typically an achievement worthy of serious bragging rights as an ace is a fairly rare occurence for the average golfer.

However, when asked to comment about the contribution, Berens denied in an email that it was a gift but refused to say what the $20,000 represented. Instead, he got defensive:

Please call Rep. Michael Garcia, Asst. Majority Leader – D as he was there with me during the entire day and he will explain everything in detail.

Why Rep. Berens, as the recipient of the check, is unable to speak for himself is unknown. Neither Reps. Berens nor Garcia have returned subsequent emails asking for clarification on the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s contribution.

Jenny Rose Flanagan of Colorado Common Cause was far more vocal about her concerns. “It is over the top for any legislator to receive that kind of money,” she said. Flanagan expressed serious doubts about Berens unwillingness to disclose why he received the money. “If this was legitimately a prize for a golf outing, then just say it. Otherwise, it sounds very fishy.”

During the last Colorado legislative session, Senator Ron Tupa (D-Boulder) passed Senate Bill 51 which prohibits legislators from accepting cash or in-kind contributions over $50 in value during a calendar year. The law went into effect on July 1. Over a month later, Rep. Berens attended the the oil group’s industry-sponsored golf outing where he supposedly won the $20,000 prize — a windfall which represents 67 percent of his annual salary as a state legislator.

“Campaign finance laws say that you can’t take a donation that large. You have my bill that says you can’t take cash as a gift at all. So he must be taking it as another type of gift but since it’s cash, it still violates the law,” said Sen Tupa.

UPDATE 10-5-06: Rep. Michael Garcia contacted Colorado Confidential and confirmed that he attended the Colorado Oil and Gas Association golf event with Rep. Berens.

He made the following comments in a phone conversation tonight:

Politically is doesn’t look good even if it’s legitimate…. I’m wondering why he’s trying to drag me into this.

I’m not sure this is a gift or something that he won out of skill. Which really isn’t a skill. I mean a hole-in-one is kinda close your eyes and hit it.

This isn’t my story. I don’t know why I have to explain something that [Berens] won.

This is an interesting question too. Is this a prize? Common Cause is saying its questionable whether this is a gift or not. That’s a really great line.

I don’t like being dragged into this. I don’t know what I add to this story. I paid my own way to golf and I was in his foursome. He knocked the ball in and got a hole-in-one.

Why is Rep. Berens asking me to explain this prize? I didn’t win it. He’s the won who won it. He’s the one who should explain the circumstances behind the tournament and the circumstances behind him winning this prize.

That check looks bad, dude.

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Wendy Norris

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