House panel clears Rep. King in ethics probe

State Rep. Steve King

Rep. Steve King got a slap on the wrist Friday but was cleared of violating ethics rules over his handling of travel expenses.

A House ethics committee ruled the Grand Junction Republican did not intend to enrich himself by getting reimbursed for gasoline and a rental car from his campaign account and a state travel reimbursement at the same time.

But the panel of three Democrats and two Republicans said King handled the matter poorly.

“He didn’t think he was doing a bad thing,” said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder. “I think he didn’t understand or misinterpreted how we treat our travel to and from the Capitol, so I’m not comfortable saying that’s unethical. I think it was wrong, erroneous, incorrect, but I don’t think it was unethical.”

The rest of the panel agreed. It unanimously voted to dismiss the complaint and will send King a letter telling him to get it right next time.

Earlier this month, Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint against King, saying that during the 2009 legislative session he had double-dipped into his campaign finances and state mileage reimbursements for the same travel to the Capitol.

King, however, said the whole matter was an attempt to assassinate him politically, but it did teach him a lesson.

On the House floor moments before the ethics panel met, King announced that in going over his expenses because of the complaint, he discovered he made an error and repaid the state $914.53 in mileage reimbursement he had received.

King, who is running for the state Senate, apologized for making that mistake and said it was not related to the ethics complaint.

“Once I realized what the error was, I paid back the state and took the moment of privilege to apologize to the House, to my constituents, and express the anger that I have at myself for disappointing the people that I serve,” he told The Daily Sentinel afterwards.

The ethics panel said King had done nothing wrong, but the matter raised questions about how King was getting reimbursed.

Levy and Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, said King was submitting receipts for auto repairs, gasoline and a rental car, but the state’s auto reimbursements are solely based on mileage, 52 cents a mile, which is meant to cover all of that.

Paying his campaign back for some of those expenses indicated King wasn’t trying to double-dip, the committee said. It was just the way he did it that raised eyebrows.

“All of this other evidence makes you go, ‘Wow,’ but it doesn’t pertain to this,” Riesberg said.

“It was a really bad idea and a really bad practice, and it can cause your ethics to be in question when you do those sorts of things,” added Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs. “But what it comes down to here is ... we can’t say he derived a financial gain from two sources because whether it’s a good practice or not, the money was returned.”

The letter the committee will send to King is to advise him on where he should go — the Secretary of State’s Office and Legislative Legal Services — to “get counsel” on what is appropriate and what isn’t.


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