Moonlighting as secretary of state
There are several issues that rankle us regarding new Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s plans to work part-time with his old law firm to supplement his state salary.
First, he knew that the secretary of state’s salary was $68,500 when he was a candidate for the office. If he didn’t think that was adequate salary, he shouldn’t have run. Unlike the state legislators’ jobs, which are definitely part-time, the office of secretary of state is a full-time position. The people of Colorado expect those they elect to the top administrative posts in the state to devote their working time and energy exclusively to those jobs.
Second, Gessler didn’t exactly give voters a heads-up about his moonlighting plans, something that might have changed the minds of a few people casting ballots in the race.
Gessler claims he never hid the fact that he planned to seek another job. But there are no media accounts of him saying that during the campaign, according to The Denver Post. He certainly didn’t mention it when he met with The Daily Sentinel editorial board, seeking our endorsement. And we could find no mention of it on his official campaign website, which was still up on the Internet this week.
But the most disturbing thing about Gessler’s plans to work up to 20 hours a month with his old law firm is the nature of that firm’s business. Hackstaff Law Group — formerly Hackstaff Gessler — earned a reputation for representing clients on campaign and elections law issues. Those are some of the most important issues Gessler must oversee as secretary of state.
He has said he won’t be involved in any legal cases related to the secretary of state’s office. But groups like Progress Now and Colorado Common Cause are right when they say there will certainly be potential for conflict of interest, and almost assuredly a perception that conflict exists. If a client represented by Hackstaff Law Group wins a favorable ruling from the secretary of state’s office on an election issue, there will always be questions about what role Gessler played in that ruling.
Gessler, a Republican, said he plans to ask Attorney General John Suthers for an opinion on whether his planned moonlighting is appropriate. We have no doubt that Suthers will provide an opinion that strictly follows the law. But we hope Suthers can convince Gessler that it would be a mistake, even if there is wiggle room in state law to allow it.
When he was campaigning against former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher last year, Gessler accused Buescher of politicizing the office. But if Gessler takes a part-time job with his old law firm, it will likely do more to politicize the office of Colorado Secretary of State than Buescher ever did.