Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler appears to have had himself audited.
In a witness list he sent Tuesday to the parties involved in an investigation of his discretionary spending last year, Gessler included the name of accountant Kevin Collins. According to the witness list, Collins, a partner at the Greenwood Village firm Clifton-Larson-Allen whose resume is attached as Exhibit A to the witness list below, has examined Gessler’s spending as well as the complaint against him and other related documents and will testify as an expert witness “to the process of audit for sums spent” and “the legitimacy of the expenses paid” to Gessler last year that are at the heart of the investigation.
Neither Collins nor the secretary of state’s office returned messages asking for comment yesterday.
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission is investigating a complaint filed by left-leaning nonprofit Colorado Ethics Watch that the Secretary improperly used public money for political purposes. The complaint centers around $1,992 Gessler spent mostly for travel to Florida for the 2012 Republican National Convention and for a Republican National Lawyers Association meeting. On his reimbursement forms, Gessler said he was conducting state business. He failed to submit receipts for expenses.
For state politics watchers, news of any audit-like review conducted by Collins may come as a surprise.
Democratic lawmakers in December proposed a state audit of the Republican Secretary’s spending as a way to remove some of the politics from the charges. The proposal was passed by the Legislative Audit Committee on a bipartisan 7-0 vote. But as the investigation into the complaint progressed this year and as Gessler’s profile as an embattled conservative figure grew, consensus broke down. Newly appointed Republican members of the audit committee defended Gessler against what they characterized as a partisan fishing expedition and a waste of taxpayer money.
State auditors told the Committee that a proper audit of the Secretary’s spending would cost between $150,000 and $175,000.
“Up to $175,000 to look at $2,000 of discretionary funds in travel expenses. That’s not a good value for our tax dollars,” Grand Junction Republican Senator and audit committee member Steve King said at the time.
It’s unclear how much Collins’ review of the complaint and the spending has cost tax-payers.
Gessler had already drawn significantly from his office’s legal services budget to hire a high-profile team of three attorneys to defend him against the complaint. The lawyers have billed well more than $60,000 for their work on the case so far, and they have worked the complaint hard, filing a series of legal motions that have questioned the legitimacy of the ethics commission and the motivations of some of its members.
The witness list submitted by the Gessler defense team for the scheduled June 7 hearing is extensive and star-studded. In addition to Collins, it includes former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher as a definite witness. The list of “may call” or possible witnesses includes the top officials in the state, officeholders such as Governor John Hickenlooper, Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia, Attorney General John Suthers, Senate President John Morse and State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.
Gessler likely sees the ethics commission hearings as the best place to preemptively defend himself against any charges that may come of the criminal investigation also launched last year into the spending by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey.
The The Denver Post reported last week that Gessler is considering a 2014 run for governor.