Lawmaker Junkets: A Study In Contrast

While Colorado’s Ethics in Government law languishes in legal purgatory, some have declared the entire exercise on hold until the court sorts it out. Colorado’s House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, however, has taken the hard line position, advising his fellow Democrats to operate as though Amendment 41 is still in place.

So why did he, along with state Sen. Jennifer Veiga, get to travel, courtesy of the Aspen Institute, to China and India this summer?

Keep reading.The answer is easy, Romanoff says. Specifically, Amendment 41 identifies a number of things of value that lawmakers can accept, including legal campaign contributions and stuff that is worth less than $50. In the case of the trip to China and India, the law includes this pertinent section:

“Reasonable expenses paid by a nonprofit ot other state or local government for attendance at a convention, fact-finding mission or trip, or other meeting if the person is scheduled to deliver a speech, make a presentation, participate on a panel, or represent the state or local government, provided that the non-profit organization receives less than five percent (5%) of its funding from for-profit organizations or entities.”

The Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for leaders around the globe, does not accept money from for-profit and special interest groups.

“We checked it out pretty thoroughly,” Romanoff said.

The focus of the two-week trip, which began at the end of July, was on U.S./China/India relations and the itinerary included meetings and policy discussions with Chinese and Indian leaders. Romanoff described the trip as fascinating. China, he noted, has overtaken the United States to become the biggest polluter in the world. The time he spent in India particularly, was “magical, but heartbreaking,” he said. New Delhi alone has a population of 30 million, and the level of poverty was overwhelming.

Romanoff, along with Veiga, are two of the Aspen Institute’s inaugural class of Rodel Fellows – 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats between the ages of 30 and 45 from around the country who were selected to participate in an ongoing program focusing on the ethics and responsibilities of public leadership and the study of democratic values. Others in the program include secretary of states, attorney generals, state treasurers and lieutenant governors.

Their China/India trip is in stark contrast with the annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference that a delegation of at least 10 conservative Colorado lawmakers attended this summer in Philadelphia. As Colorado Confidential reported in mid-August, the free-marketeer convention was sponsored largely by corporate and special interest groups – including drug, insurance and tobacco companies.

The Colorado chairman of the Washington-based organization, state Sen. Ron May, did not respond to repeated messages and e-mails seeking information about this year’s trip — including who paid for the delegation of Colorado lawmakers to travel to the conference. In the past, special interest groups picked up at least part of the lawmakers’ travel tabs.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at

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