Depending on your point of view, there’s good news and bad in the case of Secretary of State Scott Gessler and the $1,278 in public funds he spent to attend a Republican conference in August.
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey announced Wednesday that no charges will be filed against Gessler for using his office’s taxpayer funded discretionary account for a GOP lawyers event in Tampa. Morrissey’s announcement followed the release of a report from February by a grand jury that found no crime had occurred.
Still, the report rebuked Gessler for his spending. “…The Grand Jury herein expresses displeasure with the fact that Secretary of State Gessler did not provide any documentation to account for the lump sum payout from the Discretionary Fund in 2011 and again in 2012, thus creating difficulty not only for Secretary of State Gessler, but also for the People of the State of Colorado,” it reads. “The difficulty arises from the apparent lack of transparency inherent in requesting and receiving money from the Discretionary Fund without the necessity of providing even the simplest form of documentation.”
The grand jury deemed Gessler’s use of public funds for a partisan and political conference to be “not prudent, especially when it was followed by a trip to the Republican National Convention.”
Also Wednesday, Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission released its report on its probe into Gessler. It found his spending “breached the public trust for private gain” in violation of state law. The bipartisan ethics board penalized Gessler twice the amount of his $1,278 airfare and lodging, plus twice the amount of $117.99 in other expenses. Because Gessler repaid $1,278.90 in May — weeks before his ethics hearing — his final penalty comes to $1,514.88.
Gessler has racked up more than $130,000 in attorneys fees defending himself in his legal and ethics battles. In January, he sued the ethics commission in an attempt to halt its investigation into his spending.
A grand jury indictment wouldn’t have boded well for his possible gubernatorial bid in 2014. His critics plan to use the ethics commission report against him if he runs. Many of his Republican supporters dismiss the ethics probe as a political witch hunt.
Neither the Secretary of State nor Gessler’s political web site, Scottgessler.com, makes mention of the reports. And Gessler himself could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro issued a statement saying his group — which pursued the claims against Gessler’s spending — “accept(s) the Grand Jury’s decision just as we accept the IEC’s decision, and we call on Secretary Gessler to do the same.”
“If he truly wishes to put this behind him, as he claims, it is time for him to pay the fine, dismiss his lawsuits and forego any appeal of the IEC’s ruling,” Toro said.