Monday, Governor Ritter issued an executive order requiring his cabinet members and senior staff to submit conflict of interest disclosure reports by 25 October. The new order replaces a similar standing order issued a decade ago by the governor’s predecessor, Bill Owens, who sought to increase transparency with the order and guard his administration from investigation and scandal. The Ritter cabinet failed to comply with the Owens order for nearly three years.
Ritter’s new order comes in response to an open records request filed by the conservative Independence Institute in September. The Institute’s request sought access to the the Ritter Administration conflict of interest reports. Last week, however, the Institute reported that of the 15 members of the Ritter cabinet only one had filed any disclosure information. John Stulp, head of the Department of Agriculture, reportedly filed letters with the governor stating potential conflicts of interest.
“If Governor Ritter wants to overturn an executive order that brings a higher level of transparency and ethics to his administration, he’s certainly free to do so, and face the political consequences.”
Director of state watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch Chantell Taylor told the Colorado Independent that Ethics Watch had been looking into the matter when Ritter released the new order yesterday.
“It was a concern,” she said. “But there was no penalty built into the Owens’ order to punish non-compliance. So what could be done, at best, was that public exposure would bring the administration into compliance.”
And that’s what happened, she said. The Independence Institute investigation likely spurred the executive order.
“We’re glad the new order includes disclosure and we hope that going forward we’ll see full compliance.”
Taylor said the only significant update to the Owens order is that the former executive office board of ethics is eliminated by its omission and that’s because the state has created the Independent Ethics Commission in the years since the Owens order was issued.
Like the Owens executive order, the Ritter order, D021 09, (pdf) references Amendment 41– the “touchstone” of which, according to the new order, was that “public officials and government employees must not violate the public trust for private gain.” Ritter’s order applies to “employees in the governor’s office” as well the administration cabinet members.