Taxi Lobbying Complaint Dismissed

Allegations of illegal state lobbying tactics have been dismissed against the Colorado Cab Co., owner of Denver’s Yellow Cab, after a Secretary of State (SOS) investigation found insufficient evidence and conflicting testimonies. In a report dated Dec. 31 and signed by Deputy Secretary of State William Hobbs, the SOS announces that it has dismissed a complaint submitted by the state watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch, after an investigation found no hard evidence that the cab company broke the law.

The complaint stems from proposed legislation in the 2007 legislative session that sought to deregulate the taxi industry.  House Bill 1114 would have required the state’s Public Utilities Commission to issue an unlimited number of permits to cab companies who follow certain regulations, making it easier for new businesses to enter the market. Under the current system three companies dominate the industry and regulatory caps limit the number of taxis a company can operate. The bill was later gutted by the House Transportation and Energy committee and changed to control the weekly rates cab companies charge their drivers instead of dealing with permits.

In March, CEW called for the SOS to launch an inquiry after hearing allegations that Yellow Cab drivers were being paid to call lawmakers to encourage votes against the bill. If found to be true, such alleged actions would likely have been illegal under state lobbying laws.

After an investigation spanning nearly six months, the SOS report reveals that there were problems finding hard evidence. With the complaint, CEW attached an affidavit from Mengisteab Abraha Desta, a driver who alleged that Yellow Cab offered to pay drivers to call lawmakers. However, Desta is said in the report to have told an investigator that he couldn’t identify drivers who had been offered compensation and said that he received no compensation for lobbying.

Such a testimony is a stark contrast to Desta’s words in the Rocky Mountain News in March:

Desta, who supports the bill, said his supervisor showed him a one-page “Driver Script for Calling Representatives” and offered to reduce his lease fees if he agreed to call lawmakers.

Desta said he refused, but said he saw about five drivers making the phone calls at the firm’s Denver headquarters.

Other sources could either not confirm the allegations or did not return phone calls, according to the SOS report.

In March, Veolia Transportation Inc., Colorado Cab Co.’s parent company, spent $19,500 on state lobbying in part to oppose the proposed deregulation, which could have given the company more competition.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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