The Colorado House Ethics Committee voted unanimously Wednesday morning to dismiss a complaint against state Rep. David Balmer, a Centennial Republican, who faced charges he improperly tried to influence a leadership election to succeed House Minority Leader Mike May last month. May filed the complaint against Balmer — and suspended plans to resign from the Legislature to tend to his business — after a newly elected Aurora Republican reported a lobbyist for the Colorado Chiropractic Association, who backed Balmer for minority leader, contacted her about the leadership race with a check in hand.
“I don’t think we have probable cause to go any further,” said committee Chairwoman Claire Levy, a Boulder Democrat, the Rocky Mountain News reports. Wednesday’s hearing was convened to determine whether the evidence collected by the committee — including affidavits swearing nothing improper happened and phone and e-mail records from assorted legislators and lobbyists — established probable cause a violation of House rules had occurred.
A separate complaint against CCA lobbyist Erik Groves is still pending. Groves has acknowledged he contacted state Rep. Cindy Acree about the leadership vote — and attempted to deliver a $300 check from a fund-raiser held before the election — but said he ended the discussion as soon as Acree objected and, besides, didn’t know it was against House rules for outsiders to try to sway leadership votes. Acree has produced phone records and notes she said establish Groves and two chiropractors contacted her about her preference in the race for minority leader. Balmer and Highlands Ranch Republican Frank McNulty were seeking the post before May canceled his plans to step down and suspended the leadership election.
If the committee had found probable cause against Balmer, it could have pursued the investigation with the power to take testimony under oath and issue subpoenas, but House rules limit the scope of preliminary probes, so the panel had to rely on documents submitted at its request.
After first claiming release of his phone records would reveal private family and business information, Balmer turned over a raft of documents [PDF] with numerous calls blacked out because they fell outside the dates between May’s announcement that he would resign and the complaint he filed against Balmer. Among the hundreds of calls listed on his cell phone account from Dec. 10-17, Balmer redacted a handful of business calls to Georgia and North Carolina. His attorney, Jon Anderson, said Balmer couldn’t turn over e-mails demanded by the committee because his Earthlink.net account is set to routinely delete incoming and outgoing e-mails. In any case, Anderson told the committee, Balmer didn’t remember discussing the leadership race in e-mails.
An ethics watchdog group blasted the result of Wednesday’s hearing. Luis Toro, senior counsel of Colorado Ethics Watch, released a statement calling for a criminal investigation into the allegations and said it might ask the state’s Independent Ethics Commission to continue the probe:
“Ethics Watch is disappointed that the Ethics Committee chose to accept at face value Rep. Balmer’s denial of involvement in the scheme to influence the House Minority Leader election, instead of asking the tough questions left unanswered by Rep. Balmer and his lawyers. The Committee’s decision shows why voters chose to establish an Independent Ethics Commission (‘IEC’) instead of trusting the legislature to investigate its own members. Ethics Watch will consider requesting the IEC to pick up the ball that the Ethics Committee dropped today, and renews its call for state and federal authorities to investigate the possible scheme to buy votes in the House Minority Leader election.”
Balmer told the Rocky’s Lynn Bartels he was happy with the outcome. “I hold no grudge in my heart against anybody for having to go through this,” Balmer said. “I appreciate the committee studying the facts that showed I had no involvement.”