On Friday, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission issued a revised position statement on "gifts of travel" to state and local employees who are subject to Amendment 41. The statement clarifies the application of the Amendment 41 gift ban to travel payments for covered individuals. It replaces the Commission's previous "gift to the state" approach to travel grants, which Ethics Watch had criticized as too lenient. In 2009, Ethics Watch sued the IEC over its approval of a privately-funded trip to Turkey for state legislators. Although the Denver District Court refused to rule on the merits of the Commission's advisory opinion in that case, Friday's IEC opinion abandons the old approach for one that starts with the language of the state constitution.
"The Ethics Commission deserves praise for accepting constructive criticism and rethinking its approach to this category of gifts," said Luis Toro, Director of Colorado Ethics Watch. "While we think the Ethics Commission went too far by considering travel paid for by the federal government to potentially violate the gift ban, we are happy that under the new approach, travel for legislators will not be approved unless it meets the tests spelled out in the state Constitution itself. For that, Colorado voters should be pleased."
More work remains for the Commission. Representatives of several state agencies urged the Commission to consider a streamlined process to give state employees certainty that travel requests that are approved under the ethics guidelines will not subject them to complaints later. Ethics Watch supports efforts to give covered employees even clearer guidance. "State employees deserve clear ethical guidance from the IEC. While this new opinion is a step in that direction, the Commission should consider issuing regulations with the force of law. Ethics Watch is committed to working with the IEC and other interested parties to make sure the IEC is successful in its mission to promote ethical conduct in state and local government throughout the state."