The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission on Thursday released a 31-page investigative report into two ethics complaints lodged against then-Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The investigative report does not draw any conclusions nor make any recommendations as to further action, which will be decided by the commission. The commission is scheduled to meet again on Dec. 5.
Hickenlooper is among eight Democrats vying to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma for his Senate seat in 2020. As a result, the ethics complaint has drawn national attention.
The Public Trust Institute, formed by former Republican Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, filed the complaints in October 2018, alleging that Hickenlooper “traveled on private jets owned by for-profit corporations both domestically and internationally and illegally accepted luxury hotel accommodations and expensive travel expenses from corporations.”
The state ethics commission 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.
"When asked if there was any relationship between the 2018 Bilderberg Meetings and Respondent’s duties as Governor, the Secretary answered in the negative. Rather, Respondent was 'invited as an interesting American person,' " the report said. The secretary of the Bilderberg Meeting was not identified by name for security reasons.
As to why Hickenlooper was invited, the invitation was a personal one, meaning Hickenlooper could not delegate it to someone else. The Bilderberg committee decides who will be invited, and there is no documentation about why any one person is invited, the report said.
According to the secretary, "Hospitality costs of the annual meeting are the responsibility of the steering committee member(s) of the host country." The Bilderberg Meeting doesn't pay for things like ground transportation, airfare or lodging, according to the report. Meals were paid for by Fiat Chrysler, the event sponsor, according to the secretary.
In his interview with the commission, Hickenlooper indicated payment for air travel to the Bilderberg meetings was paid for "by either earned air miles or his personal credit card. The cost for the conference was several thousand dollars, which includes hotel, food, ground transportation, and other event expenses. Respondent stated that these conference costs were paid personally by him." The former governor provided credit card receipts for hotel costs.
With regard to the USS Colorado commissioning, a foundation operated by MDC Holdings, whose owner, Larry Mizel, was an event sponsor. The foundation did not cover the costs for the Connecticut trip, the report said. However, MDC Holdings "covered the cost" of Hickenlooper's air transportation.
In his response, Hickenlooper said the state paid for his lodging in Connecticut. MDC Holdings did pay for his air travel through use of a private plane. Hickenlooper said he offered to cover the cost but MDC declined.
MDC general counsel Michael Touff, in an interview for the report, said that the commissioning was intended to honor the state of Colorado and its veterans. He could not recall whether Hickenlooper attended all of the meals associated with the 2018 event, although he was present at some of them and gave speeches at those events.
Touff did not reply to a request for information on whether MDC Holdings had business before the state in which the governor could have an impact during the planning of the commissioning or the event itself.
Hickenlooper's senatorial campaign spokeswoman, Melissa Miller, said in a statement 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 fact-finding report released today is a routine and required step in the review process that we hope will proceed on a timely basis.”
McNulty told Colorado Politics that "this investigation only underscores the fact that Hick is guilty of a pattern of illegal activity under Colorado law. There was no justification made for his travel on private jets or for the gifts he received as part of the Bilderberg meetings. We look forward to the commission hearing on this. It's an open-and-shut case."
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez, in a statement Thursday, said "during his time as governor, John Hickenlooper repeatedly shrugged off basic ethical standards by accepting luxury travel on private planes from his corporate and wealthy 'friends.'
"The pattern of alarming behavior outlined in this report shows Hickenlooper ignored the state constitution and violated the trust of Colorado voters. We look forward to the commission’s continued investigation and Hickenlooper answering for his actions."
The complaint has also included Hickenlooper's travel to attend the annual World Economic Forum and on corporate jets owned by John Malone’s Douglas County-based Liberty Media Corp. However, that portion of the complaint was dismissed because it fell outside the commission's statute of limitations, which requires complaints to be filed within a year of the event.