A Colorado state senator may have run afoul of ethics laws by allowing, as alleged in an ethics complaint, an oil and gas company to foot the bill for one of her receptions.
The Feb. 15 event, hosted by state Sen. Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins), was billed as a way to inform the public about oil and gas development. The invitation went out to area residents, who only had to RSVP and show up at CB & Potts near Flatirons Crossing mall to hear a “presentation of facts regarding the proposed oil and gas development in Broomfield and how other communities in Colorado have addressed similar issues.”
Sheryl Fernandez, listed as the contact person on the invite, is Marble’s legislative aide. She is also the chair of the Broomfield County GOP, and the email address and phone number on the invitation are private, not those provided at the state legislature.
Sarah Hall Mann was interested and RSVPed. One of the facts she learned probably wasn’t what Marble had in mind.
Mann, an attorney and community activist who lives in Broomfield with her husband*, says she entered a back room and was given two drink tickets for alcoholic beverages of her choice. A buffet was available, serving sliders, a variety of salads, raw vegetables, and dips.
Marble opened the meeting, followed by presentations by former Erie Mayor Joe Wilson, former Windsor Mayor John Vazquez, Michelle Smith from Vital, a pro-energy group, and Tara Sinclair of Water Valley Land Company. All had glowing things to say about their dealings with the oil and gas industry, Mann says. Their presentations were followed by a Q&A session, during which panel members and representatives from Extraction Oil & Gas answered written questions from audience members.
“The whole event was one long pro-oil and gas industry ad,” says Mann.
After the meeting, Mann was speaking with Wilson when she was approached by Brian Cain, a media relations spokesperson from Extraction Oil and Gas LLC. Extraction has faced vocal opposition from Broomfield residents for its plans to drill near the Wildgrass and Anthem developments, which is where Mann lives.
Mann says that she and Cain talked about Extraction’s proposed plans in Broomfield, and were joined by Chandler Newhall and John Tonello, also from Extraction. She spoke with Extraction representatives for nearly an hour as the rest of the crowd thinned out.
Around 9:00 pm, Mann says, a waitress came with the bill for the room rental, food, and drinks. A female employee from Extraction told the waitress to give the check to Cain, who handed the waitress his credit card and asked for a receipt. Mann did not notice how much the bill was, but estimates with 50 to 75 people in attendance, the cost certainly exceeded the $59 limit on gifts to lawmakers imposed by Amendment 41, the state’s ethics law. The cost of the room rental alone, on a weeknight, is between $50 and $100, a tray of sliders is $160; one veggie tray is another $75 and salads range from $60 to $75. All would serve 25 guests, although the event was at least double that, according to Mann.
Marble would not comment on the event or who funded it.
Repeated calls and emails for comment to Extraction Oil & Gas also were not returned.
Mann witnessed the exchange and was perplexed, sensing that she may have seen something that wasn’t quite right. “I thought it was awfully suspect that Extraction was paying for Senator Marble’s event,” she said. “I emailed her office later to ask why her meeting with constituents was sponsored by Extraction, but never received a response.”
Mann has now filed a complaint with the Independent Ethics Commission.
But that may not be the end of it.
In April, Marble filed her quarterly gifts and honoraria report with the Secretary of State’s office, and reported she had received nothing of value in the previous three months, which would have covered the event in Broomfield. Mann is looking into a campaign finance complaint, as well.
Marble’s office says she has not seen the ethics complaint.
Correction: an earlier version said Mann had two children.