What Happens in Panama, Stays in Panama

What’s the difference between an incentive and a reward? Between a thank-you gift and a payment? These things matter if you’re a government official. They matter more if you’re a candidate for Congress, and they are crucial if you’re both of these things as well as someone who has made conflicts of interest one of his top three issues.

Republican CD-7 candidate Rick O’Donnell is catching fire for a trip he took to Panama that was paid for by KCNC Channel 4. The vacation was apparantly a “thanks for your business” perk for a big ad purchase by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, which O’Donnell headed at the time. The candidate is denying any wrongdoing, and it appears he’s legally home-free. But, accepting an expenses-paid vacation for himself and his girlfriend for just doing his government job while he’s attacking politicians  for accepting perks, well, it looks hypocritical at best.

And, there seems to be some confusion about the purpose of the trip. Quoted in a Denver Post article today, O’Donnell said, “I was there in my official capacity as the head of higher education with our sponsorship agency.” He also said 20 other Coloradans went on the trip, “but he couldn’t remember who they were.” Hmm. Too many daiquiris, Rick? Or was this a pleasure trip with your girlfriend that had nothing to do with your “official capacity”?

From the Denver Post:

“Based upon the state ethics guidelines I follow, it’s 100 percent permissible, 100 percent allowable, because I was there in my official capacity as the head of higher education with our sponsorship agency,” he said.
And he denied that the trip was in any way in conflict with his campaign’s “12-Point Plan to Clean  Up Congress.”
As part of that, he advocates drawing “a line between public service and private gain.”
His campaign website and issue book state that Congress should: “Ban corporations, trade associations, unions, foundations and individuals from paying for the travel expenses of a member or staff to attend a charity event. Too often these trips become all-expense-paid vacations for members and another way to peddle influence.”
He said he doesn’t view his campaign stance as being at odds with the trip.

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