Ethics investigation against capitol lobbyist dismissed

But letter from committee tells Nate Gorman to behave

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

A state capitol lobbyist learned Monday that an ethics investigation against him would be dismissed, but his credibility was called into question by the committee that investigated the complaint.

Nate Gorman, who runs The Gorman Group and is a lobbyist for United Veterans of Colorado, was alleged to have threatened Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, earlier this month. McKinley promptly filed a complaint on the incident with Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, D-Denver. A second complaint, drafted by Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton, but never forwarded to the committee investigating the first complaint, also accused Gorman of lying to legislators regarding House Bill 10-1371.

The first incident involving McKinley and Gorman allegedly took place on April 6 at approximately 4 p.m. According to the McKinley complaint, McKinley was visiting with Sen. Ken Kester, R-Animas, regarding an amendment to the Long Appropriations Bill on the Trinidad State Nursing Home. McKinley said he told Kester that Gorman was lobbying against the amendment and was “quite capable of not telling the truth.”

According to the complaint, Gorman was lobbying against the amendment on behalf of the veterans group. McKinley said he walked from Kester’s office to a nearby elevator, where he encountered Gorman, whom he said told him he was going to “cut out my lying tongue and stuff it down my lying throat.”

At that point, according to McKinley, Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs walked by. McKinley asked Gorman to repeat the threat, but Gorman said nothing. McKinley said he then told Gorman he was a “lying SOB” and to stay away from him.

McKinley filed the complaint with Carroll the next day. Gorman asked for an expedited hearing on the incident, which led to a Rule 36 hearing on April 14. A second hearing, scheduled for April 15, was abruptly canceled at the last minute. Committee members would not say why, but when asked if it was because of the potential of an amended complaint, two members told The Colorado Statesman they “could not say that.”

The second complaint, which must be filed first with the executive committee of the General Assembly and then the ethics committee, alleges that Gorman lied to Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Littleton, about Rep. Jim Kerr’s position on a bill. The date of the alleged incident is not identified in the complaint.

Kerr said that Gorman had told Swalm that Kerr supported the “Health Freedom Act,” HB 10-1371, which was sponsored by Rep. Jerry Frangas, D-Denver. Swalm said he would sign on as a co-sponsor if Kerr supported the bill. Kerr said in the complaint that he did not support the bill, and that Swalm intended to remove his name as a co-sponsor if that was true.

Kester signed on to the amended complaint; McKinley was also listed as a possible signatory to the complaint but did not have the chance to sign it.

Joint Rule 36 governs the rules for lobbyists in their dealings with legislators, state officials and state or legislative employees. Under Joint Rule 36, a lobbyist may not attempt to influence a legislator by deceit, threats of violence, or economic or political reprisals. Rule 36 allows for the convening of a committee to investigate the complaint, to be made up of two legislators appointed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House and a third legislator appointed by the two other legislators.

The committee which investigated the McKinley complaint was comprised of Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton; Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs; and Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon.

The Rule 36 hearing on April 14 included testimony from McKinley, Gorman, Kerr, Kester, Lambert and House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville.

At the onset of the hearing, Gorman’s lawyer, Larry Carroll, asked that testimony be confined only to the incident in question and only to those who had witnessed the incident. He also asked that no testimony be taken related to prior exchanges between Gorman and McKinley.

Kerr had written a letter to Speaker Carroll stating that he also had issues with Gorman and would back McKinley and whatever outcome “leadership determines is appropriate.” Kerr did not testify on the April 14 hearing because he had no direct knowledge of the April 6 event.

In his testimony, Kester said that after McKinley left his office, Kester heard a loud argument in the hallway. Kester said he could not hear exactly what was being said, but did hear the words “cut” and “throat” and recognized Gorman’s voice. Lambert verified McKinley’s version of the event as it related to Lambert walking up to the two at the elevator. Lambert said he did not hear what was said but also said the tension was obvious and the two appeared to be angry at each other.

Weissmann testified that he was aware of the tensions between McKinley and Gorman throughout the legislative session, stating that he had advised them both to avoid each other. “It was no secret that the two weren’t getting along,” Weissmann said.

Despite Carroll’s request that the hearing be confined to testimony directly related to the incident in question, his client, Gorman, did not follow it. And that opened a “Pandora’s box” that led to the amended complaint.

Gorman told the committee he was deeply troubled by the matter and that nine legislators, including six in leadership, will no longer work with him as a result of the complaint. He said the incident did not happen, explaining that he did cross paths with McKinley at the elevator, but that McKinley suddenly said “say that again!” when Lambert approached them. “I stood there, dumbfounded, and [asked] ‘why would you say that?’” Gorman said.

Gorman went through the history of his relationship with McKinley, which he said dated back to their being on opposing sides regarding the Army’s 2007 desire to expand its Piñon Canyon training grounds in southeastern Colorado. It continued into this session, Gorman explained, with them being on opposite sides regarding legislation to block the sale of the Trinidad State Nursing Home. Gorman said he was disturbed by Kester’s testimony, and questioned whether Kester could have heard the conversation based on the location of his office. He also disputed Lambert’s testimony, saying he didn’t know how someone could characterize someone’s affect when he was just walking by.

“You have two lawmakers who you say are lying — why would they do that?” asked Scanlan. Gorman was initially silent, but then said there was a contentious issue before the body and the proceeding was an effort to intimidate him and his client.

The situation had been escalating, he said, and recounted that one representative had warned him they would pit veterans against “throwing little old ladies out on the street.” Gorman did not identify the legislator, who he said was not McKinley, but that the legislator had carried out that threat in a town meeting in Pueblo.

Scanlan took issue with Gorman’s testimony, pointing out that his attorney had asked that testimony be limited to the April 6 incident but that Gorman had gone beyond that, relating other history and incidents in his relationship with McKinley, for example.

Gorman said McKinley had relayed some of that prior history first. “You’ve broadened the scope,” said Hodge.

“I regret him going into the diatribe…it was unforeseen,” Carroll told the committee.

Following the hearing, the committee decided to ask Kester and Weissmann to return for the next day’s hearing, and to also ask for House Sgt. Joel Malecka and lobbyist Christine Staberg of the Capstone Group to testify. Staberg told The Statesman that she had been arriving on the second floor via the elevator on April 6 but did not hear the incident.

Kerr told The Statesman he would not have decided to amend the complaint if Gorman had not “bloviated” about prior incidents during the April 14 hearing.

On Friday, the Joint Rule 36 Committee recommended the Executive Committee dismiss the complaint against Gorman, a report made public on Monday. In their findings, the committee wrote that there had been “a heated confrontation” between McKinley and Gorman at the elevator, but that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate McKinley’s claim of a threat. The claim by Gorman that there had been no confrontation “was not credible,” the committee said.

But despite the “apparent angry nature” of the confrontation, it was a matter of “bad blood between the two parties” rather than an attempt by Gorman to influence McKinley’s votes or opinions.

The evidence does not support a finding that Gorman threatened McKinley in an attempt to alter McKinley’s votes or opinions, hence no violation of Rule 36 occurred, the report said.

But the committee also said that Gorman’s testimony regarding “the truthfulness and integrity of two respected legislators is a serious concern.”

On Monday, the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council reviewed the report and voted 6-0 to dismiss the complaint against Gorman. However, the Executive Committee also decided to write a letter to Gorman, telling him that they expect “a higher standard of behavior and respect …when he is engaged in lobbying activities with members of the Colorado General Assembly in order to protect and preserve the dignity” of the legislature and integrity and civility of the legislative process. That letter was suggested by the Rule 36 committee.

Gorman was present for the executive committee hearing. He told The Statesman after the hearing “I’ll be able to get back to the business of my clients at the capitol and restoring my good name at the capitol. It’s been a distraction. I look forward to getting back to work.”

Gorman also responded to the findings of the committee regarding the conflicts between his testimony and the two legislators. “I defended my initial statement, and if the committee found that was in conflict, [well,] I was defending what I said.” As to his credibility, Gorman said “I told the truth.”

Rep. Jim Kerr, who filed the second complaint, told The Statesman that he was glad the issue was resolved and that he hoped decorum returns to the House chamber and lobby. As to the letter advising Gorman to behave, Kerr said he thought it was an appropriate request. “It puts the Executive Committee on record on what acceptable behavior should be,” he said.

McKinley told The Statesman he found it strange that a lobbyist buying a legislator a meal would influence a legislator’s vote but that threatening a legislator would not.

“It’ll make me a little more careful about walking to the elevator,” he said.

McKinley also played a phone message he had gotten Thursday from Dwayne Thompson, general counsel for United Veterans of Colorado and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, discussing the ethics complaint against Gorman. Thompson asked McKinley to withdraw the complaint, stating “I don’t know if you’ve been involved in misconduct.” Thompson also said UVC “had a right to be there and we won’t be intimidated by filing any complaint.”

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com