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Pugliese vote on tax break was proper, attorney says

Greg Ruland (Grand Junction Sentinel) – Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese’s vote to give a property tax break worth more than $3,500 to a former law client was proper, County Attorney Patrick Coleman said earlier this week.

The vote was proper and Pugliese’s relationship with the former client at the time of the vote imposed no obligation on her to disclose it, Coleman said.

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Ethics Commission runs to Supreme Court in bid to avoid accountability

Late Friday afternoon, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (“IEC”) asked the Colorado Supreme Court to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Ethics Watch in May for judicial review of the IEC’s 3-2 decision to dismiss a complaint, filed by Ethics Watch, asking whether Elbert County Commissioner Robert Rowland violated ethical standards of conduct when he cast the deciding vote to authorize the county to pay for an appeal of a campaign finance award against himself personally. The extraordinary petition asks the Supreme Court to hold that IEC decisions to dismiss complaints without a hearing cannot be reviewed by any court.

The IEC’s argument is based on the constitutional provision stating that complaints may be dismissed without a hearing only if they are frivolous, and frivolous complaints must be maintained as confidential. The IEC maintains that this means it may not disclose a dismissed complaint even to a court. Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones rejected the IEC’s argument and ruled that Ethics Watch’s suit may go forward. Ethics Watch had argued that a routine confidentiality order would address the IEC’s concerns.

“We are at a loss to understand why the IEC wants to make a Supreme Court case out of a simple failure to proceed on a case that two of the five commissioners thought deserved a hearing,” said Luis Toro, Director of Colorado Ethics Watch. “Nevertheless, we will fight to make sure the Ethics Commission does the job it was established to do, even if that means going to the Colorado Supreme Court.”

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Will Colorado Continue to be a Model in Filling Judicial Vacancies?

Peg Perl (HuffPost Denver) – Three years ago, Colorado was hailed as a “model for senators across the country” because of the cooperative, timely and successful screening process our then-Senators used to inform the President’s nomination for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court of Colorado. It is unclear whether we are still deserving of such praise.

U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn announced last April that he will be taking Senior Status effective April 2016. This announcement opens up a “future vacancy” on the District Court for Colorado and gives the President and the Senate a year to nominate and confirm a new federal judge. While a year seems like a long lead time, that’s not always long enough to get something accomplished in D.C. (There is some sort of human years:dog years conversion needed to for real time:Congress time).

Click here to read the full story in the Huffington Post.

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Court allows Williams to settle Ethics Watch’s suit against Citizens United

Yesterday, Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer dismissed Ethics Watch’s lawsuit against Citizens United for failing to report its spending on television ads attacking Governor John Hickenlooper during the last weeks of the 2014 election campaign. Judge Spencer ruled that a settlement agreement between Citizens United and Secretary of State Wayne Williams in a federal lawsuit filed by Citizens United eliminated Ethics Watch’s ability to enforce Colorado campaign finance laws against Citizens United.

In October 2014, Citizens United filed a federal lawsuit against the Colorado Secretary of State, and won a partial injunction against enforcement of electioneering disclosure laws. The ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that Citizens United need not disclose spending on the film “Rocky Mountain Heist,” a “documentary” released just before the election, but may be required to disclose spending on television ads for the “documentary” that identified Governor Hickenlooper.

Ethics Watch later filed a complaint against CU for electioneering disclosure violations as to television advertisements that were not subject to the injunction. Then, the Secretary entered into a federal consent decree with Citizens United enjoining the enforcement of electioneering disclosure laws, not only as to the spending that the Tenth Circuit said need not be disclosed, but also to the television ads that were the subject matter of the complaint. Yesterday’s ruling concluded that the Secretary’s settlement with Citizens United prevents Ethics Watch from proceeding with its complaint.

Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro said: “We are disappointed that the Court accepted Secretary Williams’ grant of a one-time ‘get out of jail free’ card for Citizens United only. Even though the Supreme Court case that bears its name said corporations and people must be treated equally, Citizens United was happy to accept a special dispensation that allowed it to ignore the rules that apply to everyone else. Secretary Williams should be fighting to enforce campaign finance laws, not cutting special deals with his conservative allies.”

Helpful Links:

  • Click here to read the ALJ’s decision.
  • Click here to read the settlement between Citizens United and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
  • Click here to read the federal district court’s order on the settlement agreement.
  • Click here to read Ethics Watch’s complaint (exhibits).
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Local government emails in Ashley Madison database

Jeremy Jojola (9News) – Taxpayers may also be getting cheated as government employees use their official work accounts to conduct extramarital affairs.

9Wants to Know found numerous local government email accounts in the Ashley Madison database acquired and uploaded by hackers.

“Any kind of misuse, including for your own personal affairs is something that should be avoided,” said Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch, a government watchdog group. “Government emails, government resources at your computer are supposed to be used for public business only.”

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Cynthia Coffman’s private-meeting invitation irks SW Colorado public officials

Susan Greene (Colorado Independent) –

At the peak of the Animas River crisis, Cynthia Coffman reached out to the Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission and invited each member to dinner. But several of her would-be guests didn’t appreciate what the state Attorney General planned to serve up.

Some are blasting Coffman for ignoring Colorado’s open meetings law. As the state’s top law enforcement official, they say, she should have known better than to try to gather them together in a closed meeting.

Click here to read the full story in the Colorado Independent.

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Coal-fired debate over federal coal program

Nat Stein (Colorado Independent) – Coal industry members, environmentalists and state and local officials all gathered in a Marriott hotel conference room in Golden on Tuesday to weigh in on how the Bureau of Land Management should modify the federal coal program — if at all.

It was the fourth of five stops on the BLM’s national listening tour, designed to solicit input on how to best ensure that taxpayers get a fair return on the coal extracted from public lands. The tour comes on the heels of Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s call to “modernize the federal coal program.”

Click here to read the full story in The Colorado Independent.

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Rally Ahead of Obama Administration’s Coal Listening Session Calling for Fair Share Return

Staff (Cherry Creek News) – Dozens of Coloradans, representing a diverse coalition of ranchers, sportsmen, environmentalists and taxpayers, will hold a rally outside of the Obama Administration’s coal listening session on Tuesday, calling for a fair share return from coal mining on national public lands in Colorado. Coal leasing and development on public lands is rife with loopholes and handouts that benefit a few companies at the expense of Coloradans.

Click here to read the full story in the Cherry Creek News.

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Ethics Watch statement on federal coal program

Today, Ethics Watch Senior Counsel Peg Perl made the following public statement at the Bureau of Land Management public listening session regarding the federal coal program in Golden.

“When some coal companies use corporate subsidiaries to artificially lower royalties paid to the federal and state governments, they not only cheat the citizens, they also gain an unfair advantage over competitors. Regardless of where you stand on the proper standards for power plant emissions, we should all agree that the American people should get fair royalty payments for mining operations on our public land, and that companies who bend the rules should not get an unfair advantage over their competitors who aren’t gaming the system. Any losses the mining company may suffer from a lower priced transaction are more than made up for by profits of the marketing company that flow up the chain to the corporate parent. However, every dollar of royalty revenue that the government should be but isn’t collecting, adds to our deficit and shifts more of the cost of government on to hard-working taxpayers in Colorado.

There is little doubt that the current loophole exploited by some larger coal companies is subject to the influence of money in politics and lobbying. According to public disclosures analyzed by opensecrets.org, in the 2014 election cycle the coal mining industry spent $9.8 million on lobbying for favorable treatment under federal programs. The coal industry is also a major player in campaign contributions for members of Congress, giving over $26 million in candidate contributions in the 2012 and 2014 cycles alone (opensecrets.org). The public record in the coal valuation rulemaking includes a letter from fifteen members of Congress urging the DOI to slow down reform efforts – a position consistent with larger coal companies that benefit from the current loophole. Each of those legislators has received thousands of dollars in contributions from the coal industry since 2012, including all three of the Colorado delegation members who signed that letter. Such a large checkbook wields influence in Congress (opensecrets.org).

It is hard for smaller companies and the citizens who suffer the effects of lower royalty payments to be heard when big money is spent in politics and lobbying to enrich profits of large coal companies. We hope you use this listening session to hear the voices that cannot spend millions on campaign contributions and Washington lobbyists. The BLM should ignore the calls to go slow and fix the coal royalty loophole so that all coal companies pay fair market prices for using our public lands for their private profit.”

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RMGO suit against Ethics Watch dismissed

DENVER – Today, United States District Court Judge Robert Blackburn dismissed a lawsuit filed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) and Colorado Campaign For Life (CCL) against Ethics Watch. RMGO and CCL filed the suit against Ethics Watch in response to Ethics Watch’s successful lawsuit against the two groups for failing to disclose electioneering spending in two Republican state Senate primaries in 2014.

The Court rejected RMGO and CCL’s argument that Ethics Watch’s complaint against them amounted to an invasion of their First Amendment rights because Ethics Watch allegedly has a pattern of targeting groups based on the content of their speech. From the order:

There is no basis to conclude that the complaint brought by CEW was frivolous or was undertaken without a reasonably objective hope of success. The complaint was found to be valid. The plaintiffs claim CEW targets only conservative political groups. If so, the plaintiffs appear to argue, the complaint of CEW against the plaintiff was motivated by retaliation for political speech. Based on the CEW website, the plaintiffs claim to show a record of CEW’s efforts to target Republicans with complaints and litigation.

As CEW notes, however, this record of the actions of CEW is incomplete. Notably, by the measure of the plaintiffs, each of the plaintiffs has been subject to a complaint initiated by CEW on only one occasion. The evidence cited by the plaintiffs is not sufficient to justify further discovery on the issue of bad faith or harassment of the plaintiffs by CEW. Notably, the plaintiffs did not raise contentions of bad faith or harassment in the state proceedings. The CEW complaint at issue here was found to be valid in the state proceeding. Nothing in the evidence cited by the parties shows that CEW pursues invalid complaints as a method of harassment and/or in retaliation for certain types of political speech. There is no evidence of unjustified and oppressive multiple complaints by CEW.

Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro said: “As a nonpartisan watchdog group, Ethics Watch files complaints for violations of the law on money in politics based on the evidence we can present in court to obtain a successful result. We are pleased that a federal judge has reviewed the evidence and confirmed that we do not target groups based on the content of their speech.”

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