By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The bipartisan House Ethics Committee last week unanimously cleared Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, of accusations that he double-dipped — that is, charged his campaign account and the state for the same expense.
King said he naturally is pleased that the proceedings are over so he can get back to focusing on his district and the state.
“Now I’m able to focus on what I’m here to do, to represent the people in district 54,” said King. “ But, quite frankly, there’s been some damage done.”
King said recovering his reputation would be difficult.
“What if somebody reads your first two stories and not the third one?” King stated. “You don’t recover from those sorts of things.”
Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch — the organization that filed the ethics complaint — attended the committee hearing last Friday and said he was not surprised at their findings.
“Anytime you file a complaint, with the House of Representatives policing its own, you can’t have high hopes,” said Toro this week. “They’re extremely reluctant to find fault with each other. There is a huge institutional bias in letting the person off and I think we saw that last Friday.”
King said the month long investigation took a toll on himself, his family, his staff and the five House members on the Ethics Committee. King said during the numerous times when the House or various committees were engaged in debate, he felt maybe it was better for him not to participate.
“It crosses your mind,” said King. “The shadow was cast over me over the last 30 days. It’s a thought that causes you to hesitate. I think that’s unfortunate.”
King said he believes the investigation was a character assassination and that Colorado Ethics Watch, which initiated the complaint, wanted to destroy his reputation solely because he is a Republican. King said he only borrowed money from his campaign to travel to Denver until he could be reimbursed.
“Using the term ‘double-dipper’ is an attempt to demonize,” said King, who is running for state Senate this year for the seat being vacated by Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.
Toro said he reviewed the finance reports of all 100 legislators, and only had issue with one. He said his organization had no intention to impugn King’s character.
Ethics committee member Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said she does not believe an ethics violation transpired because King did not financially benefit from the transaction. She did say that King needs to be warned for taking a loan from his campaign account and that he should not have billed the state for gas and mileage.
Levy also said that taxpayers should not have paid for a rental car last spring while King’s car was in the shop. King said he received permission from the legislative staff to rent the vehicle.
The committee voted to send King a letter outlining what the state allows on expense accounts. In a release, Toro said that he hopes the letter will send a strong message.
“The purpose of an Ethics Committee is to set standards of conduct for House members, and it would send a terrible message for the Ethics Committee to condone the practice of members loaning themselves money out of their campaign account,” said Toro in the release. “On the other hand, if the Ethics Committee sends a strong letter specifying their concerns with Representative King’s behavior, they can help ensure that this does not happen again. We call on the Ethics Committee to state in no uncertain terms that members may not treat their campaign accounts as personal credit lines in the future.”
Toro said that he believes the Colorado Ethics Watch complaint was accurate despite the Ethics Committee’s ruling.
State legislators may request mileage reimbursements from the state, but they must confirm that they did not receive reimbursement for the same expense elsewhere.
Toro said that when the state reimbursed King last spring, King certified that he was not reimbursed from any other source.
“I don’t think anyone disputed that,” said Toro. “That was inaccurate. That was an ethics violation.”
Toro also said he did not agree with the Ethics Committee that there was no personal financial gain when King loaned himself money from his campaign account because King paid no interest or fees like he would with a bank or credit card.
“It is extremely troubling the Ethics Committee saying that there is no personal gain to a member who uses their campaign fund for loan advances,” said Toro.
Unrelated to the ethics investigation, King found an accounting error while compiling information in his defense. King accidentally overcharged the state for a rental car year and has since reimbursed the state $914.53.
“I am angry at myself for disappointing the people I am here to serve, and even more than that, I realize my error could reflect badly on the House of Representatives,” King told the House last Friday during a moment of personal time. “I am truly sorry.”