SOS not full time, $68,500 not enough – Gessler to keep lawyering

(Did we predict Gessler would be a four-year field day for Democrats? Three years, eleven months, and one week to go! – promoted by Colorado Pols)

POLS UPDATE #2: From the Colorado Independent:

Making sure that any work [Gessler] does for Hackstaff doesn’t conflict with the work he has sworn to do for the people of Colorado, however, may amount to another full-time job.

The secretary of state oversees and administers laws, codes, regulations that cover a vast array of vital and contested areas of activity, including lobbying, elections, campaign finance, voter registration, ballot initiative title setting and petition verification, some gambling as well as business, nonprofit and charitable practice and licensing. The list is long…

Attorney General John Suthers, who is tasked to work with Gessler to help him avoid Hackstaff-related conflicts of interest, said attorney-client privileges prevent him from speaking on the topic.

This legally proscribed silence is a big problem and points to the bigger problem going forward, according to Luis Toro, director of government watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch and a man who has argued cases against Gessler in the past. The public is being forced to simply accept that the secretary of state will be acting in good faith without any way to really ask questions or get answers to confirm that’s the case, he said. [Pols emphasis]

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POLS UPDATE: In a press release from Strong Colorado (after the jump), basically every liberal group in the state takes a swing at Scott Gessler’s decision to moonlight at his old law firm while serving as Secretary of State. Says Steve Fenberg of New Era Colorado, “As a public servant, Gessler has to have the public trust. And he’s telling us – ‘trust me, but I can’t tell you what I’m doing.’ Given his background in partisan politics that’s a difficult thing to ask.”

That’s the nice way to say it–original post follows.

—–

Scott Gessler, our brand-spanking new Secretary of State, now charged with overseeing elections and campaigns, plans to continue working as an attorney for Hackstaff Law Group, which represents clients needing help with election and campaigns.  

Perhaps it would have been nice to tell his employers – the voters – before they hired him that this was his plan. He could have told them that $68,500 wasn’t enough. He could have said that he didn’t believe being the Secretary of State would consume all of his time and energy. He even could have told us, voters of Colorado, that the apparent huge conflict of interest was actually no problem at all.

Whatever the case, it is truly mindboggling how audacious he is to think that this won’t be a problem, in both perception and reality.

Maybe he just didn’t know how much the position paid before he applied for it.  

DBJ broke first, but here is the report from HuffingtonPost Denver

Gessler told the Business Journal that he needs extra money to supplement the $68,500 he will make annually as Secretary of State. A former partner with Hackstaff and Gessler LLC, now the Hackstaff Law Group, Gessler said he’s taking more than a 50% pay cut in his new job.

January 21, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Ellen Dumm, 303 810-4370, ellen@strongcolorado.org

Gessler “Moonlighting” Raises Trust Issues with Public

Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s announcement that he will keep a part-time private attorney job to supplement his state salary raises some red flags because he cannot reveal much of the information about his private job.

Gessler, who represented independent, political attack groups as a private attorney, says he will work 20 hours a month with his former law firm, Hackstaff Law Group. Hackstaff continues to represent numerous political organizations that do business with the Secretary of State’s office. The law firm will not disclose Gessler’s part-time salary and cannot reveal the legal clients.

During last year’s campaign, the Colorado Statesman noted that Gessler’s name was attached to “virtually every third-party right-wing attack group.”

“The Secretary of State’s office oversees campaign finance, elections, voters’ rights and some business and nonprofit activity.  As a public servant, Gessler has to have the public trust. And he’s telling us – ‘trust me, but I can’t tell you what I’m doing.’ Given his background in partisan politics that’s a difficult thing to ask,” said Steve Fenberg of New Era Colorado, a civic engagement group for young voters.

“He’s running Colorado’s elections and has to be above reproach. Trust is a big piece of his relationship with the public. This is not a good start for him,” said Ben Hanna of the Colorado Progressive Coalition.

Gessler says he is taking a pay cut of more than 50% to take the Secretary of State’s job, although he was aware of the salary when he ran for the office.

“There are a lot of people who are struggling right now who would love to have a $68,500 salary. That may not seem like much to Mr. Gessler, but that tells me he doesn’t have a good sense of what the world is like for a lot of people. I’d love to have one job right now, much less two,” said Diane Stallard, an unemployed human resources professional who has been looking for a job for two years.

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80 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ClubTwitty says:

    Voters voted for an elected employee, the assumption being that it is full time.  If he knew he could only manage it working part-time he owed it to the public to disclose before the election.  Meet our newest referee–an apparent cheat.    

    • Dan WillisDan Willis says:

      …a recall would take nearly 430,000 valid signatrures (meaning over 700,000 need to be collected) and the time period to get them is only 60 days.

      Notice to all groups: you come up with the money, I will be happy to organize and run that petition drive! It can be done, but all the ducks must be lined up before the petition format is submited for approval.

      Gessler’s audacity to even suggest this is beyond anything I have seen from a Secretary of State in the 20 years I have interacted with that office! Even Vikki Buckley would not have dared anything so brazen!

        • Dan WillisDan Willis says:

          When Mike Coffman ran for Congress by petition, he hired me (opposite party and from a different district) to verify his and his opponent’s petitions. No employees of his participated except to sign the formal declaration with showed my team’s results.

          Forcing Gessler to recuse himself from the process would be one of those ducks that needs to be lined up. He could easily pass the chore to one of the counties.

          • BlueCat says:

            This isn’t just a case of Dems not being happy with losing an election. Gessler really does need to drop his work with Hackstaff or resign or be recalled.  This is beyond ridiculous. And not just because he plans to moonlight but because the firm he’s moonlighting with is

            Hackstaff Law Group, which represents clients needing help with election and campaigns (my emphasis)

            .

            How could that not be a conflict of interest of such proportions and of such a constant and ongoing nature as to make it impossible for him to be trusted as SOS? It’s hard enough to trust those in the office of SOS not to be partisan in the way they run elections but that’s our system and we generally just have to give an SOS the benefit of the doubt and hope that elections are run fairly.  Situated as Gessler will be, it simply  won’t be possible, much less sensible, to extend that level of trust.

            He must have known about the admittedly very modest salary and shouldn’t have run if he felt he couldn’t afford to live on it for a few years. It’s definitely a full time job.  Now he should admit he made a huge mistake and resign.

    • cybersoul says:

      Collecting signatures will be just the start!

      • Ralphie says:

        Not only does it take a huge number of signatures to get a statewide recall on the ballot, Gessler is the guy who gets to throw them out.

        • cybersoul says:

          …that he would have to recuse himself, and the counties (or a county) would step up to the plate to do the counting.

          It’s almost like you want SO[B] Gessler to stay in office! I must say, that will work out great for the Democrats as he is a train-wreck of a politician. But I feel for my native home being managed by a fool like him!

          • Ralphie says:

            But I think an unsuccessful recall attempt will just stiffen his spine.

            There are many battles with Gessler that lie ahead.  I’m just saying to keep your powder dry.

            • cybersoul says:

              …and that a failure to remove him by recall would mean he could be a tougher opponent in the next election.

              Battles? As in the story in the Denver paper of record about the SOS requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote? That’s the kind of nonsense (in that there is no proof of any actual problem where non-citizens are influencing election outcomes) that I want to stop in its tracks!

  2. ohwilleke says:

    If you weren’t willing to take a pay cut, why did you run?  You don’t run for elected office to get rich.

    Since when did managing an organization with a budget of about $21 million and 126 employees become a part-time job?

    While the state constitution doesn’t expressly prohibit moonlighting, it certainly offers some relevant advice.  For example, Colorado Constitution, Article XII, Section 2 states:

    “No person shall hold any office or employment of trust or profit, under the laws of the state . . . without devoting his personal attention to the duties of the same.”

    Likewise, Colorado Constitution, Article XXIX, Section 1(d) observes that: “Any effort to realize personal financial gain through public office other than compensation provided by law is a violation of that trust.”

    It is hard to see how any election law activity or any legal or lobbying activity related to state government would not be a realization of personal financial gain through public office, or how this could fail to be a conflict of interest under the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys (see e.g. CRPC 1.19).

  3. abraham says:

    I don’t even know where to begin to say what a mercenary action this is.  What an unbelievably cynical and arrogant move.  It surpasses the McInnis ethical debacle.

    There is simply no way that concerns over conflicts of interest will not arise.  The taxpayers will be at risk of overwhelming legal challenges and open records requests to decisions and actions by the SOS office.  The SOS will become paralyzed.

    And what the bloody Hell is Hackenstaff thinking?  This will taint his law firm.

    Gessler needs to quit whining and step up and do the job he swore an oath to do or he needs to step down and let the vacancy be filled in accordance with law.

    I guess he can’t be recalled for a few months yet – but that’s a petition I would sure sign.

    Gee maybe Governor Hickenlooper would appoint Tancredo now that he is a Republican again.  

    • ohwilleke says:

      He plans to work 20 hours a month for Hackenstaff on a contract basis, yet has told a certain newspaper that he won’t recuse the SOS’s office from cases involving Hackenstaff and “would treat his old firm just like any other when it came to the decisions his office makes.”

      • abraham says:

        So to keep things on the up and up, the firm would have to turn away a huge amount of business, take the hit on income and develop new lines of business to compensate for the loss?

        It is an interesting development when a law firm would be in a position of taking the higher ethical ground than that taken by a former partner.  

  4. sxp151 says:

    Quite aside from the fact that he’s basically playing both DA and defender for Republican vote-fraudsters, almost everyone I know would be thrilled to make $68k. He’s an ungrateful shit.

    • BlueCat says:

      for a position such as SOS but thats what we pay here in Colorado. Remember we’re not comparing it to average wage earners but mainly to what successful lawyers can make in the private sector. Clearly, people don’t go for these offices for the money and  there is no way Gessler didn’t know full well what becoming SOS in would involve.  This is simply unbelievable. We can’t stand still for this.

      Here are 2010 salaries just in case anybody is planning on running so you won’t be shocked…shocked…when you get your paycheck.

      Governor  $90,000    

      Lieutenant Governor $68,500  

      Secretary of State  $68,500  

      Attorney General  $80,000  

      Treasurer  $68,500  

      • ModerateGal says:

        but it seems low for the level of commitment a person must make for these positions.

        That written, he knew the salary when he decided to run. I cannot see a side of this that doesn’t scream “fraud!”.

        • Pam Bennett says:

          Legislators are years behind the inflation rise for their pay.  

          • ModerateGal says:

            I know it’s considered part-time work, but everyone knows it’s full-time plus.

            • cdsmith says:

              They are supposed to be part time; the legislative session is only part of the year, and the theory goes that they’ll head back to their home communities and do other productive work the rest of the year.  Yeah, yeah, I know… but that’s the theory.

              I don’t know that the Secretary of State has ever been described as a part-time job; not in relatively modern times, anyway!  Then add to the fact that he’s working for a law firm that represents people dealing with election law and other matters that may pit them against State…

      • NoCo_Indy says:

        Remember, the SoS also sets policy and steers the direction for county clerks. In the largest counties, the salary for being a county clerk is $87,300.

        I think the Legislature should consider increasing the SoS salary, even though I also think what Gessler is up to is fishy.

        • Ralphie says:

          Because it’s all about money.

          Serving the people doesn’t have a damned fucking thing to do about it.

          Your argument doesn’t work for me, NoCo Indy.  Try to find a different way to justify the behavior of this crook.

      • Duke Coxdukeco1 says:

         find the salary for the Director of the Colorado River Water Conservation District? When Rollie Fischer had the spot, it was the highest paying job in the state government, I’m told.  

        I wouldn’t even know how to look, but I am curious.

  5. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    The GOP powers that be have to know something like this will be awful. And they’re the ones that have paid him for years. Don’t they have their puppet under control?

    His expertise is election law. Of course any work he takes will potentially be something the SOS looks at. It’s not like he’ll be hired for say divorce cases.

    And the job is more than full-time. Running an agency that large requires that you are there full time. It’s called managing.

    • ohwilleke says:

      malpracticed for one of his clients (a used car dealer’s trade group) in a case that was highlighted during the campaign, but we elected him anyway — probably mostly due to throw the bums out voters who knew nothing about the candidates but their political parties.  That case showed poor ethical judgment and so does this one.

      The firm does have work that probably won’t be directly conflict of interest (e.g. drafting leases for business clients), but the attribution of Gessler’s conflicts to the rest of the people in his firm quite possibly wipes out the firm’s core business.  Even if Gessler did moonlight (which is a scummy thing to do) his old firm is a horrible place to do it.  

  6. BlueCat says:

    I expected them to be telling us we’re all  making a mountain out of a mole hill. Nothing to see here. Blah, blah blah.

  7. RedGreenRedGreen says:

    until someone files a complaint with the Independent Ethics Commission over this? Coffman’s purported conflict of interest was far less damning than what Gessler is already admitting, and he got hauled before the commission. (That complaint was, of course, thrown out [PDF])

    • ohwilleke says:

      rather than say you are going to do something unethical, before one can legitimately file a complaint, although one could ask for an advisory opinion on the proposal (and Gessler would be a fool to go forward with this without getting reassurance in writing from the IEC and AG’s office that it is OK, which he may well be).

      If I were Hackenstaff, I’d drop this like a hot potato.  They already took Gessler out of the firm name, which is what you are normally supposed to do when a lawyer in your firm wins a full time elective office and won’t be actively working for you anymore.  The relationship would probably compromise their ability to be effective in court by raising so many questions.

    • droll says:

      For a few reasons.  Least of all because he (Gessler) hasn’t actually done anything yet.

      Anyway, this office is elected.  It’s just really none of Hick’s business.

      • Sir RobinSir Robin says:

        Just seems to be an issue of checks and balances here. The position isn’t an emperor!

        • droll says:

          that other than a recall there’s nothing to be done about “overlooking” violations.  If he does something the other way though (makes up bogus charges), there could be relief in other places.  Probably not going to be the case here.

          That’s how most offices work anyway.  I use “in general” because I haven’t ever bothered to delve into the SOS in any meaningful way.  I can’t imagine why it would be different though.

          Never hurts to ask about who you can complain to.  😉

          • Sir RobinSir Robin says:

            When the team comes together, if someone is behaving like their not in the same traces/harness, and pulling in a direction that’s different than the rest of the Clydesdales, they either get with the team, or they get sent back to the barn.

            It’s why the leaders we elect are so important.

  8. Awen says:

    the Strong Colorado press release is in error – the quote from The Statesman DOES NOT EXIST and this was pointed out to Strong Colorado this afternoon.

    The story they are supposed to reference is NOT from 2010; it’s from a 2008 article on people who had applied for the Secretary of State vacancy after Coffman was elected to Congress.

    The Statesman article (http://bit.ly/dLlRSJ) states:

    No one doubts that Gessler’s a great lawyer, but his record indicates he is about as partisan a Republican as they come. Check out any public filing for a 527 or a 501(c)4 group that’s running attacks against a Democrat, and you’re likely to find Gessler as the group’s registered agent. Gessler, however, could be a strong secretary of state candidate for the Republicans in 2010.

    It’s a stretch to say that we called the 527s Gessler is associated with “third party right-wing attack groups”.

  9. Dabee47 says:

    teach a class at DU?

    Obviously that’s not the same as what Gessler wants to do in terms of potential conflicts and the like, but for those of you going on and on about “part-time” this and “pay-cut” that, I don’t recall anyone barking up the John Suthers tree…  Teaching a class presumably takes time, right?

    • Dan WillisDan Willis says:

      He actually said in the Denver Post article this morning he was looking at that AS WELL which implies he is looking at teaching and being a lawyer and being SOS.  That is too much.

      If he wants to supplement his income teaching one or two classes a semester that would be okay with me. That would avoid the conflict of interest issue. I think any more than that would be too much on top of his SoS duties.

      What concerns me the most is that he considers the SoS job to be part-time. It is definitely a full-time job.

    • raymond1 says:

      Adjunct law teaching:

      1) pays $0 (commonly for public figures or wealthy adjuncts like law firm partners) or a nominal amount like $2000-4000 for an entire semester-long course;

      2) typically, when taught by a public figure, is a one evening a week 1.5-2 hour gig for 13 weeks, and maybe double that for class prep, plus another 20 hours for grading — which means about 60-70 hrs TOTAL for the whole semester, not 20 hours WEEKLY like Gessler.

      • RedGreenRedGreen says:

        This might be splitting hairs, but Gessler says he’s planning to work 20 hours a MONTH for his old firm, not per week.

      • Dabee47 says:

        Oooookay…

        You do realize the 70 hours over 13 weeks (which would make for one shitty prof, adjunct or not) is actually MORE time than the 5 hours a week Gessler wants to spend on things he wasn’t elected to do, right?

        Also, it’s OK for an elected official to do stuff they weren’t elected to do as long as it’s in 13 week chunks?  Riiight…

        Further, it’s also OK if they don’t get paid or make very little?  Yeah, that’s the ticket!

        • ajb says:

          If you don’t get paid, then it’s much more difficult to “profit” from the activity, isn’t it?

          People like Suthers teach classes for a variety of reasons, but nobody does it to get rich.  

    • PERA hopeful says:

      They don’t do it for the (pitiful) money, and they don’t do it to benefit a law firm that is constantly in litigation against or in front of their employer.  

      I don’t have much of a problem with Gessler working 5 hours a week to supplement his income or to provide a public service.  The HUGE problem is where he is planning to do that work.  There are statutes and rules for state civil service employees that aren’t directly applicable to Gessler since he’s not in that system, but they do govern Gessler’s employees.  Those include:

      C.R.S. В§ 24-18-105(2), which prohibits state employees from holding business interests that may be benefited by “official action to be taken by an agency over which he has substantive authority.”

      C.R.S. В§ 24-18-108(2)(d), which prohibits state employees from performing official acts that directly and substantially benefit businesses in which they have a substantial financial interest.  

      State Personnel Board Rule 1-13, which prohibits state civil service employees from engaging in outside employment or other activity, including business transactions or private business relationship or ownership, that is directly incompatible with the employee’s state duties and responsibilities.

      SPB Rule 1-14, which provides that state civil service employees can have outside employment with advance written approval, which may be denied if the outside employment interferes with performance of the state job or is inconsistent with the interests of the state, including raising criticism or the appearance of a conflict.

      The Ethics Amendment, as has been discussed elsewhere, requires employees to avoid conduct that is in violation of their public trust or creates a “justifiable impression among members of the public that such trust is being violated.”  And the Rules of Professional Conflict prohibit attorneys from engaging in representation of clients where that would create a conflict of interest.

      If one of Gessler’s employees wanted to moonlight by working for a company that was frequently in front of the SoS as a litigant, representing a litigant, trying to sell voting machines, or whatever, how could Gessler deny permission since that is what Gessler wants to do himself?

      This notion that Gessler can do some work for the Hackstaff Law Firm and just wall himself off from SoS decisions on matters involving that law firm is arrant nonsense.  Isn’t possible.  Can’t happen.  Won’t happen.  These issues would not be present if he was teaching a law class at DU or doing a zillion other jobs to supplement the SoS’s (pitiful) paycheck.

      This is such a slap in the face of the people who voted for this bozo.  I wondered what they were thinking when they voted for him, and now they are also wondering what they were thinking, judging from the comments on the Daily Prophet site.

      • droll says:

        I don’t think he’s defending Gessler, merely pointing out a point of hypocrisy.

        I agree with Dabee, it’s not the time or the money that’s a problem.  It’s the conflict and that Gessler doesn’t see it as a problem.

        Like a friend of my sisters many years ago stole a CD she didn’t want.  “What?  The case was open.”  Right, the stealing or screwing the person who would buy the empty case didn’t even enter her mind.  It just served the store right for not properly sealing cases against thieves.

        We weren’t supposed to leave the house that day, but I can’t really complain about that.  I’d done it, too.  Stealing; still wrong.

        • PERA hopeful says:

          I didn’t think Dabee was defending the indefensible Gessler.  I thought he was saying that Suthers teaching a class is as bad as what Gessler wants to do, and that was the point I was trying to address.  If I misunderstood, I apologize, Dabee, and thank you, droll.

          • Dabee47 says:

            Droll is right.  I just think there are two different arguments against what Gessler is doing…and people are unnecessarily and hypocritically conflating them.  

            The conflict of interest argument is spot on.  I totally agree.

            But the argument that spending time working outside of the SoS office was somehow an afront to democracy and heinously wrong struck me as BS.  Thus, the Suthers comparison.  

  10. koop says:

    Remember her?  Executive director of the FL Rep. Party and Sec of State in charge of certifying the 2000 Prez vote in FL?

    That worked out well.

    I don’t care if he wants to work nights or weekends to supplement his income.  Teach, deliver pizzas, whatever.  But it’s astounding that he thinks it’s appropriate to be in any way associated with a law firm that has dealings with his office. There isn’t a Chinese Wall high enough to avoid the appearance of impropriety.  

    • Ralphie says:

      Donetta Davidson, Gigi Dennis, and Mike Coffman come to mind.  Davidson was the worst in recent memory, IMHO.  She was so bad Bush gave her a job heading up the Election Assistance Commission after the Florida Debacle and the passage of HAVA.

  11. BoulderDem says:

    Can’t make this stuff up.

  12. Steve Balboni says:

    For those interested in I have explored all 3,

    What Ethics Rules might Gessler be violating?

    http://steampoweredopinions.bl

    What is the process for impeachment?

    http://steampoweredopinions.bl

    What is the process for recall?

    http://steampoweredopinions.bl

  13. The realistThe realist says:

    so I apologize if someone has already posted this . . .

    SOS = SOB

  14. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    I went through the Post comments on the story and they’re running about 15:1 against Gessler. He’s lost most Republicans as well as all Democrats on this.

    What was totally tone deaf was not just taking something that will at a minimum be viewed as a conflict at times, but his complaining about a salary that is well above what most people make.

    • cybersoul says:

      But according to Fannie Mae, Denver Cty Median income (50% more, 50% less) is: $75,900, and according to the USDA, Colorado median income is $55,735.

      But, despite the numbers (which show that the salary is definitely above what most Coloradans make — I only quibble about the term “well above”), SO[B] Gessler is completely wrong about the little maneuver for the reasons mentioned elsewhere. I don’t think he should have run for the position at all, as he was eminently unqualified.

      Seriously, though? I thought Walker Stapleton would have been the first Re-thug elected last year to fall flat on his face. That SO[B] Gessler pulled off a nice trick shooting himself in the foot so quickly!

  15. I have to agree, $68,500 isn’t enough for the Secretary of State of Colorado – I was shocked to hear we pay so little to the executive of a department running a $21m/yr budget.

    But Gessler’s solution is exactly the WRONG approach to take, for so many reasons.  There is no amount of lawyering from AG Suthers that will be sufficient to convince the people of Colorado that Gessler’s extra-curricular employment at Hackstaff isn’t a conflict of interest – the law firm’s loosest connections to the activities of the SoS office are business licenses also regulated by the SoS’s office.

    Less than one month in to the next election cycle and I’ve already lost what remains of my faith in the election workings in the Secretary of State’s office.  Suthers IMHO needs to have a “come to Jesus” talk with Gessler – and if he won’t, the state GOP should – saying that rejoining Hackstaff is  step too far.  Otherwise, I can see this going to recall rather quickly.

  16. ajb says:

    Let’s start with hearings in the House and Senate. Just the simple question: “What ethics rules apply to the SOS?”

    Let’s get the AG to take a position on the legality of this.

    Let’s get Coffman, Gardner, and Lamborn to comment.

    Interview all the tea party leaders.

    Will they circle the wagons? or will they drop him like a pair of dirty shorts?

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