Watchdog group names Colorado’s top 10 public ethical scandals of 2008

The watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch (CEW) this week unveiled its annual list of the top 10 ethics scandals involving public officials throughout the state in 2008. There was no shortage of civic shenanigans this year.

CEW finds noteworthy transgressions at all levels of government, committed by everyone from a Democratic state legislator (since resigned) to a gambling town that lavished tax dollars on aldermen, from a state agency retaliating against a whistleblower to a federal department where sex, drugs and industry gratuities were the norm. Former Secretary of State Mike Coffman’s operation wins two spots on the list, though his departure for Congress surely means he’s on to new and bigger ethical challenges.

Below is CEW’s tally, listed in chronological order. Read a more detailed description of CEW’s list of ethical lapses here (PDF).

1. Sexual Harassment Allegations Force Rep. Michael Garcia to Resign: State Rep. Michael Garcia, Assistant House Majority Leader, resigned his seat on February 1, 2008 amid allegations that he exposed himself and made lewd comments to a lobbyist.

2. Governor’s Campaign Manager Mishandles Inaugural Committee Funds: Gov. Ritter announced in April that an internal review of his inaugural committee’s finances showed that his former campaign manager, Greg Kolomitz, had written unauthorized checks to himself and may have violated state law by using $217,164 in contributions to the Ritter inaugural committee to repay campaign debts.

3. El Paso DA Partying on Taxpayers’ Time and Dime: On May 6, a Colorado Springs TV station caught El Paso County District Attorney John Newsome on hidden camera drinking 11 beers in five hours during the middle of the work day, and then driving his county vehicle. Newsome also used public funds for a weekend trip to watch his alma mater in a football game.

4. Black Hawk Blows Tax Funds on Home Improvements and Vegas Parties: In May, it was revealed that Black Hawk Mayor David Spellman and some of the city’s aldermen have benefited handsomely from several million dollars the town receives each year for historic preservation and unrestricted direct grant money from the state limited gaming tax fund.

5. State Agency Covers Up $8M Mistake, Fires Whistleblower: In July, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) fired department employee Annmarie Maynard after learning that she had gone public about an attempted cover up of an $8 million mistake within the department.

6. Oil and Gas Regulators in Bed with Industry: In September, it was revealed that some Department of Interior Minerals Management Service employees engaged in promiscuous sex with oil and gas industry representatives; drug abuse; and acceptance of gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies, the very people they are responsible for regulating.

7. Election Director Abruptly Resigns During Conflict of Interest Investigation: On September 10, State Elections Director Holly Lowder abruptly resigned after Ethics Watch exposed that Lowder leased a condominium from voter database consultant John Paulsen, who had received at least $184,000 in state contracts from Lowder’s office — a blatant conflict of interest prohibited by state law.

8. Shamed U.S. District Court Judge “Naughty” Nottingham Resigns Lifetime Appointment: U.S. District Court Judge Edward Nottingham resigned in October 2008 amid complaints of judicial misconduct, including accessing pornographic websites from his court-issued computer and soliciting prostitutes on his court-issued cell phone.

9. Secretary of State Coffman’s Grand Exit — The Great Voter Purge of 2008: A federal voting rights lawsuit against Sec. Coffman in October, and a subsequent decision by a U.S. District Court judge, revealed that his office illegally removed an estimated 12,000 voters from voter registration lists after the federal cutoff date.

10. Chiropractic Lobbyist Has Rep. David Balmer’s Back: When House Minority Leader Mike May made the surprising announcement in December that he changed his mind about leaving his leadership position, Colorado voters learned of a potential vote-buying scheme in Rep. David Balmer’s bid to replace Rep. Mike May.

Check out this CEW roundup of Colorado’s most corrupt public officials — including a couple still on this year’s list and a few who lost elections in 2008 — issued last spring.

What did CEW leave off its 2008 list? Nominate your top Colorado ethical scandals from the last year in the comments section below.