Hickenlooper Denver forum

U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper, a former two-term Colorado governor, speaks with Denver Democrats after a forum in Denver on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, that featured the eight candidates seeking the nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has created a digital ad campaign, dubbed "Joyride John," that targets former Gov. John Hickenlooper for his ethics troubles.

The campaign, which begins Monday evening, includes a digital ad and a mock travel agency brochure for the "Joyride John Travel Agency," poking fun at Hickenlooper's use of private jets for travel, which is at the heart of the ethics complaint currently awaiting action from the state Independent Ethics Commission.

The four-figure digital ad buy will run on Facebook in Denver throughout the week, according to NRSC spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez. The NRSC declined to identify the specific amount for the ad buy.

"Hickenlooper spent years shrugging off ethics rules and the Colorado state constitution so he could jet around on private planes with his 'friends' and donors," Rodriguez said in a statement Monday. "Now that his actions are being investigated, the 'millionaire former governor' is relying on tax dollars from a 9/11 recovery fund to pay his defense lawyer and long-time donor to try and get him off."

It is standard practice for the state to pay the legal costs for statewide elected officials who face ethics investigations; the state coughed up more than $515,000 for the legal expenses tied to a 2012 ethics complaint filed against then-Secretary of State Scott Gessler. That complaint, which found the Republican had violated the state's ethics laws, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear it. 

The legal expenses for Hickenlooper's attorney, Mark Grueskin, are being covered by a post-9/11 economic recovery fund controlled by the governor's office. According to The Denver Post, Grueskin was hired as a "special assistant attorney general" by the office of then-Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, in 2018.

Two ethics complaints were filed against Hickenlooper in October 2018 by former Speaker of the House Frank McNulty and his newly-formed Public Trust Institute. An investigative report released by the ethics commission last month focused on travel related to a June 2018 trip to Turin, Italy, for the Bilderberg Meeting, an annual forum "designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America."

The commission also investigated Hickenlooper's travel to Connecticut in March 2018 for the commissioning of the USS Colorado; private travel to New Jersey in January 2018 and to a wedding in Texas in April 2018; and travel to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August 2018 to attend the American Enterprise Institute’s Jackson Hole Symposium.

Both the trip to Jackson Hole and the commissioning of the USS Colorado were tied to his official capacity as governor, Hickenlooper said in his response. Hickenlooper said he paid for his travel to Italy as well as for conference costs. The trip to New Jersey was to be by his wife's side for a medical procedure; the trip to Dallas was to officiate at a wedding for a personal friend.

Hickenlooper, who is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, has called the ethics complaint frivolous. A spokeswoman said last month that the "Denver Post editorial board has already called these complaints ‘politically motivated lies,’ and they were filed by a dark money Republican group."

The state's ethics law, known as Amendment 41, limits gifts to elected officials and public employees to no more than $65, a limit adjusted annually.

The commission is scheduled to meet Thursday, and among its agenda items is setting a hearing date for the Hickenlooper complaint. 

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