No payback for guv’s trip, ethics panel says

It would be a violation of Colorado ethics laws for Gov. John Hickenlooper to be reimbursed by NBC News for travel to New York earlier this fall for participating in an education summit hosted by anchor Brian Williams, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission ruled Monday.

Hickenlooper had asked the ethics panel if it would be a violation to allow NBC News to reimburse his office for travel costs for himself and a staffer to the New York interview on Sept. 26.

The five-member panel, which includes former Grand Junction state Rep. Matt Smith, said that while having Colorado’s governor on national television does elevate the state’s profile, it boosts Hickenlooper’s standing nationally far more.

“While the state may have benefited indirectly from the governor’s presence on the NBC News panel, the bolstering of the governor’s national profile on an important political issue very directly benefits the governor,” the ethics panel said. “Neither the request nor the governor’s legal counsel identified any specific state legislative or administrative issue or agenda that required the governor’s presence on the panel. Rather, the governor considers the trip a valuable opportunity to interface with other state governors in a discussion about education generally.”

Hickenlooper appeared on a special program with eight other governors to talk about such education issues as the achievement gap, dwindling funds and the effects of No Child Left Behind federal legislation has had on public schools. Christine Scanlan, Hickenlooper’s chief legislative liaison, traveled to New York with him.

The trip cost the state $2,600, which the governor paid for out of a discretionary budget fund.

The ethics panel said it was appropriate for the governor to use money from that fund to pay for the trip, but it would be a violation of the Colorado Constitution for the state to accept reimbursement from a for-profit company such as NBC News.

Eric Brown, Hickenlooper’s press secretary, said NBC offered to reimburse the cost of the trip to all the governors, adding that it was important for Hickenlooper to attend because it allowed him to share the state’s recent education reforms.

“A bipartisan group of governors was asked by NBC to come together to share best practices about education,” Brown said. “The governors also participated in other sessions and discussions during the summit.”


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