Former SoS Coffman cleared by ethics panel

Congressman Mike Coffman, who served as Colorado secretary of state before he was elected to represent CD 6 last year, was cleared by the bipartisan five-member Ethics Commission this week on charges brought by Colorado Ethics Watch. The non-profit group had alleged that Coffman acted improperly as secretary of state by employing a deputy who ran a partisan web-based business from the office, and for using a consulting firm (Phaseworks) for his congressional campaign while the firm lobbied on behalf of electronic voting machines, a function of the secretary of state’s office.

Coffman maintained throughout that Ethics Watch was a partisan organization bent on destroying him politically, and his attorney handling the complaint said as much after the decision was released.

Doug Friednash, of the law firm Greenberg Taurig in Denver, said the complaint was a “scorched earth public relations campaign” from the start.

“The unanimous decision did not find, as expressly requested by Ethics Watch, that the complaint was filed for proper motives,” Friednash said in an official statement. “The decision was thorough in its analysis and shows that Ethics Watch could not have proved its case under any standard of proof.”

Friednash added that Ethics Watch never utilized its options to truly investigate the complaint as allowed by the commission.

Friednash said he was particularly pleased that the decision was unanimous from a Republican, Democrat and Independent. (Two Republicans had recused themselves from the case because of personal connections with Coffman.)

“This speaks volumes,” Friednash continued. “It exposes Ethics Watch and what they’re doing. This cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars — the state had to hire counsel and Congressman Coffman had to hire counsel,” Friednash said. “In an economic downfall the state was forced to spend all this money.”

Chantell Taylor, executive director of Ethics Watch, said in a statement that the Independent Ethics Commission “set the bar dangerously low for ethics in the state and Colorado voters should be gravely concerned about the precedent set by this decision.”

Taylor added, “Also concerning is the IEC’s disregard of the constitutional requirement that it conduct an investigation of all complaints. In this case, the IEC conducted no investigation, did not allow Ethics Watch to engage in any discovery, yet raised the burden of proof and then claimed a lack of evidence as a basis for its ruling. It is abundantly clear that the IEC does not intend to fulfill its duty to serve as Colorado’s ethics enforcement commission.”