By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
A legislative ethics committee met Wednesday concerning a complaint filed against Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, by a local political watchdog group that said King might have been reimbursed twice for travel expenses incurred last spring, once by his campaign and once by the state. If so, it would constitute “double dipping.”
The ethics committee, made up of a bi-partisan five-member team reflecting the current political division in the house, decided on Wednesday that it would focus solely on the double dipping allegations. The committee will meet again on Feb. 12 and must make a final decision by Feb. 18.
The Denver-based, non-profit Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint on Jan. 13 with Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, after receiving a tip from the Grand Junction Dailyblog.
The ethics committee is comprised of Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, chair; Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, vice chair; and Reps. Claire levy, D-Boulder, Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley.
During the committee hearing this week, Waller, Levy and Gerou agreed it looked like King used campaign funds in order to hold himself over until the state could pay him back when purchasing a rental car after his vehicle broke down.
These campaign funds were not donated from campaign contributors, but from King himself. Kind deposited $1,025 into his campaign account over two separate occasions last spring.
Waller said that if the funds in King’s campaign account came from donors than an ethical violation clearly occurred, but he asked if its okay to use campaign funds that was his own money to pay for a rental car and then have the state reimburse him.
“Once I followed the path it did not seem to me like we had true intent of deception,” said Gerou. “I think he was trying to make ends meet.”
Waller further elaborated the point by saying that King is a rural legislator who makes $30,000 a year.
“He had car problems, and doesn’t have money to rent a car,” said Waller. “He says, ‘Let me borrow from the campaign account.’ Is that double-dipping when you are taking a loan from your campaign account?”
At the committee, Riesberg said he doesn’t think it sounds ethical.
“I can’t imagine borrowing money [from a campaign account] and paying it back,” said Riesberg “That’s what banks are for — not campaign accounts.”
Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said that it is not ethical to use a campaign account as a bank.
“I don’t agree that it’s proper to use a campaign account as a personal bank that’s not available to the public,” said Toro. “I thought Rep. Riesberg was right on. If you need a loan you go to the bank or you put it on your credit card. I would be very troubled if the ethics committee decided this is all okay because he [King] was really loaning himself money out of his campaign account. Campaign accounts are not supposed to serve that purpose.”
Furthermore, Toro said that the math doesn’t add up. He said that King deposited $1,025 into his own campaign account and billed his campaign $1,408. Toro said that he did not receive the same information the ethics committee reviewed, but was fairly confident the numbers will not add up.
“It is somewhat disturbing that some people are already ready to jump to a determination that’s this is all okay, that it was a payday loan that was all paid back,” said Toro.