Ethics probe widens

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The investigation into ethics complaints against Assistant House Minority Leader David Balmer and Erik Groves, a Colorado Chiropractors Association lobbyist, pivoted on a sticky note, phone logs and recollections of conversations and phone messages.

It took a wider turn this week — requesting relevant memos, phone records, text messages and e-mails during the week of Dec. 10 from every Republican House member.

Rep. Cindy Acree deleted the phone messages, but submitted a handwritten post-it note that named Groves on one side, and said “Leadership Vote” on the other.

Of particular interest are their communications to or from Groves, Balmer, House Minority Leader Mike May, Rep. Cindy Acree and, possibly, Rep. Frank McNulty.

Acree, of Aurora, filed a complaint last month against Groves, alleging that he had been an “active participant” in a minority leadership race, a violation of General Assembly rules. She based the allegation on messages left on her cell phone.

Balmer, of Centennial, and McNulty, of Highlands Ranch, were vying to succeed May, of Parker, who had announced on Dec. 12 that he would retire.

After hearing Acree’s allegations, May postponed retirement and filed an ethics complaint against Balmer — instigating a probe into possible coordination between Balmer and Groves.

Some legislators asserted that Acree had discussed the phone messages with McNulty. If so, he wasn’t mentioned in her complaint, which listed several people, including Rep. Laura Bradford, of Grand Junction, with whom she said she had discussed the messages.

Balmer and Groves have adamantly denied the allegations.

“Representative May acknowledges in his complaint that none of the information set forth in the complaint was based on first-hand, personal knowledge; rather, it was a reiteration of hearsay,” said Jon Anderson, of Holland & Hart, who responded to the complaint on behalf of Balmer.

“Balmer had no involvement with, or contemporaneous knowledge of, any of the events described in the underlying ethics complaint, probable cause does not exist, and this complaint should be dismissed after preliminary investigation,” said Anderson.

Since receiving the complaint last month, Anderson has asked Legislative Legal Services for access to the recorded messages, but was still waiting for a reply last week.

Groves’ legal counsel, Richard Kaufman, of McKenna Long & Aldridge, served a Colorado Open Records Request to obtain access to the voice messages left on Acree’s phone.

Sharon Eubanks, of Legislative Legal Services, responded that “Acree had erased the voice messages and, therefore, they are unavailable for review,” Kaufman said.

Without the voice messages, Acree’s complaints were based on memory and a handwritten notation on a post-it note.

“Eric (sic) Groves… chiro…off,” Acree had hastily penned, along with the lobbyist’s office and cell phone numbers. On the reverse side, she had written, “Leadership Vote.”

Kaufman noted that neither Acree’s complaint letter nor her “sticky note” suggested that Groves had asked her to vote for a particular candidate in the leadership race.

Groves said he left a message on Acree’s phone on Dec. 15 and talked briefly with her at the Capitol on Dec. 16. He raised the topic of the leadership race. After she said it would be improper to discuss it with a lobbyist, he dropped the topic.

“At no time during this conversation did Mr. Groves advocate on behalf of a specific candidate for leadership,” stated Kaufman in a four-page response submitted a couple of days before the Jan. 16 ethics hearing.

The two ethics committees are sharing documentation and witness accounts. However, minimal evidence and conflicting testimonies may pose a challenge.

In an attempt to connect the dots and assess the scope of the ethics breech — if there is one — the committees are reviewing communications among Acree, Balmer, Groves, May and the House minority members.

“…In connection with the preliminary investigation, the Committee on Ethics has asked for certain documentation from you,” stated the letter from Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, who chairs the committee reviewing the complaint against Balmer.

Levy requested, “All letters, memos, or other written correspondence… All notes, meeting minutes, e-mails, text messages, instant messages, recorded voice messages, records, or other written or recorded documentation regarding conversations between you and Representative David Balmer, Representative Cindy Acree, any other member of the House Republican Caucus of the sixty-seventh General Assembly, Erik Groves, or any other member, staff, employee, trustee, lobbyist, or other person acting on behalf of or representing the Colorado Chiropractic Association or political action or small donor committees associated with the Colorado Chiropractor Association occurring during the period of time commencing December 10, 2008, through December 17, 2008, that may be relevant to the Committee’s inquiry.”

The letter was hand delivered to the Republican legislators on Jan. 9, and requested documentation be given to the Office of Legislative Services by Jan. 15.

The complaint against Balmer will be reviewed at the Jan. 20 meeting of the ethics committee.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com