Government watchdog group Ethics Watch ranks top Colorado scandals of 2010

Nonprofit watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch on Tuesday brought out a list reviewing five of the most glaring high-profile breaches of public trust in Colorado in 2010. Ethics Watch is often described (or dismissed) as “left-leaning,” and it’s true that its list this year spotlights the actions of four well-known Republican political figures. But it’s also true that the names of three of the four men included on the list– Doug Bruce, Dan Maes and Scott McInnis– now mostly induce chortles and head shaking on the left and right in political circles across the nation.

“We were trying to pick [instances] where there was no redeeming side. These were cases where there was no way to give a positive spin,” Director Luis Toro told the Colorado Independent.

Ethics Watch didn’t attempt to rank the scandals, Toro explained in a release. “They are all outrageous.”

The Top Five list with full background is available as pdf here. A quick rundown from the release:

* House Ethics Committee to King: Stop Breaking Those Rules We Said You Didn’t Break! In January 2010, Ethics Watch filed a complaint with the Speaker of the House, asking for a House Ethics Committee investigation of Representative Steve King for double dipping – receiving mileage reimbursement from the state for travel expenses that had also been reimbursed by his campaign – a clear violation of House rules. The scandal magnified when the House Ethics Committee formally dismissed the complaint, but later quietly released a report criticizing Rep. King for the exact issues brought forward in the complaint.

* Pinnacol Assurance: The Worst of Both Worlds. Pinnacol Assurance, a public/private hybrid that serves as workers’ compensation carrier of last resort, displayed behavior in 2010 that could be characterized as the worst of both the public and private sectors. From a critical state audit pointing out lax enforcement of staff travel and entertainment expense policies, to revelations of Pebble Beach junkets for members of the state commission designated to oversee Pinnacol and plans for secret private sector-style “golden parachutes,” Pinnacol displayed a pattern of acting like a private company when it comes to spending and oversight, but using its public status to avoid the full regulatory system that applies to private insurers.

* “Musings On Water.” Former Congressman Scott McInnis, once considered the front-runner in the 2010 Colorado gubernatorial race, lost the Republican primary after evidence came to light that he submitted plagiarized materials to fulfill a fellowship obligation. The Hasan Family Foundation made it known that they felt they had been misled, and McInnis and the foundation later announced that they had reached a confidential settlement. An Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel investigation into McInnis’s conduct is ongoing.

* Maes Campaign Funds End Up In Pockets of Candidate and Family. Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes made the wrong kind of headlines by being extremely effective at directing campaign funds to himself and members of his family. Maes received $17,500 in fines for violating Colorado campaign law related to mileage reimbursements to himself, the largest fine in Colorado history resulting from a complaint filed under Colorado’s private-party campaign finance enforcement procedure.

* “Mr. X” Revealed. Douglas Bruce was the poster child for the all-too-routine flaunting of disclosure requirements in ballot issue elections. When a private citizen filed suit over the lack of disclosure of the funding of Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, Bruce avoided 30 attempts by El Paso County deputies to serve a routine deposition subpoena. A witness in the eventual disclosure hearing identified Bruce as the “Mr. X” behind the three initiatives. Bruce continued to manipulate the system by dissolving a non-profit tied to the initiatives and Bruce, arguably rendering uncollectible any fine issued for disclosure violations.

Toro said his staff considered, for example, including Attorney General John Suthers, who attended a private fundraiser with representatives of the payday loan industry at the same time his office was reviewing new payday lending regulations. Yet, Suthers responded to complaints by “washing his hands” of the rule-writing process. A deputy attorney general oversaw the writing and rejected industry arguments.

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