Are We Finally Done With Bogus Ethics Complaints, Then?

The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels has an especially cogent story out today:

Tested during this summer's recall elections, the tactic involves using ethics complaints to impugn the integrity of a political candidate — even when the complaint is found to be without merit.

The move has attracted bipartisan criticism, including from the state's top Republican, Attorney General John Suthers.

Hickenlooper has been hit with two ethics complaints. The first, filed in July, was rejected by the state's Independent Ethics Commission without review as being "frivolous."

The second was filed this month by a conservative group, Compass Colorado, which trumpeted in a news release that Hickenlooper had misused state funds. The group's executive director, Kelly Maher, has since backtracked on that statement, saying it was "poorly worded."

During this summer's recall campaign against then-Senate President John Morse, GOP-leaning group Compass Colorado and other pro-recall messengers made much of ethics complaints filed against Morse over the years. In Pueblo, the local paper breathlessly reported a story about an "ethics complaint" against recall target Angela Giron that was never even successfully filed. In Morse's case, the complaints were dismissed, but none of the ads against Morse based on those complaints during the recall made any mention of that rather important detail.

The inherent dishonesty in using a dismissed complaint against someone without mentioning the dismissal is pretty hard to ignore, though it's just one of many examples of factual abridgement in politics these days. Most of them simply go unreported–a time-honored method of controlling irresponsible BS by the media, but increasingly ineffective for stopping the spread of misinformation in today's social media world. To take the additional step of repudiating this dishonest tactic of grandstanding on bogus ethics complaints is a commendable development.

Of course, no blog post about Republicans and ethics complaints would be complete without a mention of the Independent Ethics Commission's most famous successful complaint, which found that GOP Secretary of State Scott Gessler had "violated the public trust for private gain" by using discretionary funds from his office to pay for travel to partisan Republican events. It's worth remembering that the most recent (2011) ethics complaint against Morse was alleged to have been "retaliation" from Gessler, filed by a close associate. It's important, as we discuss the frivolity of the many complaints filed and counterfiled between partisan politicians, that we keep in mind how sometimes they are not frivolous at all.

And we're relieved to see that baseless, hypocritical attempts to muddy these waters have their limits.

12 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

    If the IEC would publish opinions (or at least state orally) explaining their reasoning on why they feel a complaint is "frivolous" then their opinions could perhaps carry more weight.  Without that, it is simply conclusory to assume that their decision is necessarily well-founded. 

    • ModeratusModeratus says:

      Quite right, Elliot. Democrats try to play up the IEC into a court of law, but it's just not. It's closer to a kangaroo court.

    • Craig says:

      This gives such frivilous complaints more credibility than they are worth.  The word "frivilous" means something and it's not good for the filers.


      The problem is that Democrats continue to ignore this type of tactic, beause they are arrogant.  They continue to refuse to call a lie a lie.  Republicans are famous for telling things which will technically true are intended to mislead the public and they get away with it.

      Remember the story that circulated on the internet that said Obama had repainted air force one with his campaign logo.  While technically true since an plane on which Obama flies is air force one, it was really his campaign plane he had repainted and the 747 that everyone thinks of as air force one wasn't repainted.  While debunked on web sites and the like, lots of people still believe its true and techically it is true.  But, as long as the other side doesn't call it a lie, even though its not really a "lie" the public will believe it, they won't hear the explanation which is a lot more difficult that the simple lie.

      • Urban Snowshoer says:

        Craig wrote: "The problem is that Democrats continue to ignore this type of tactic, beause they are arrogant.  They continue to refuse to call a lie a lie."


        I completely agree. This has long been a problem with the Democrats. Republicans often win, not because they have better ideas, but becuase they are willing to play dirty, whereas Democrats are unable or unwilling to do the same, or at least repond effectively.  In the ideal world both parties would treat each other with respect and focus on the issues that matter. However, in the real world people don't always play nice with each other.

        The Democrats need to stop living in this fantasy world where they hold the moral high ground by being nice and civil and figure out how to respond to baseless claims of ethics violations and worse. The Democrats need to do a better job with counter-messaging; at a bare minimum point out the ethics complaints have no merit. Better yet would be to not only point out that the ethics complaints have no merit but to also attack the credibility of the groups making these frivilous ethics claims.

        Above all the Democrats need to be reminded that just because an accusation is  misleading or demonstrably false doesn't mean people will regard it as such.

        • horseshit GOP front grouphorseshit GOP front group says:

          Very true.  Democrats need to call total bullshit more often and be more aggressive.  There is so much of it out there that hurts them, and they just let it slide.

          And Craig, I could be wrong but am pretty sure Air Force One has to be an Air Force plane that the POTUS is flying on, as opposed to a private one used for a campaign, etc.  So in that case the claim would be a total lie instead of a half lie, but hell, there's thousands of ones just like that.  Back to my death panel !

      • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

        Please do opine on exactly why the Worley complaint was frivolous (meaning without basis in law).  I'm deeply curious about your well-informed thoughts. 

  2. BlueCatBlueCat says:

    Guess John Suthers is a RINO then?

  3. jmatt12 says:

    To be fair, Democrats ran a frivolous complaint against Bernie Herpin (OS2013-0003) alleging campaign finance violations… that mysteriously seemed to vanish when it was dismissed by the Plaintiff one week after the election.  It is a tactic that both sides need to restrain themselves from using as it discredits really campaign finance matter that do demonstrate poor ethics.

    • Urban Snowshoer says:

      Both sides would do well not to misuse the recall process as well: leave it for true imcompetantance or credible evidence of criminal activity. The Democrats are guilty here as well: e.g.the attempt to recall WIsconisn govenror Scott Walker–I'm no supporter of him and  thought the legislation on collective bargaining was a cheap shot, that had little too do with budgetary issues. However, I opposed the recall; trying to recall the Wisconsin governor over collective bargain legislation is on par with the gun supporters trying to recall Colorado legislators  over voting for gun legislation: i.e. trying to overturn the results of an election, not removing someone who is corrupt or inept. I have not doubt that sooner or later the use of the recall process in Colorado will come full circle, with Democrats attempt to recall Republican legislators. 

      There may be some who try to rationalize how Walker recall  was different or warranted , and those people have a right to their opinion. However, I truly fear for democracy in the U.S. should it become customary for the losing side to use the recall process to try to overturn the results of an election.


      • cdsmithus says:

        Until demographics change considerably, you won't see Democrats trying to abuse the recall process.  Not just because they are "above" the tactics, but because recall elections favor Republicans.  Republicans have the hyper-motivated "I'll burn in hell unless I join the fight against the baby killers" types, and Democrats have most of the middle of the road, economically disadvantaged, and less motivated voters who won't make it to the polling place for a recall.

    • gaf says:

      Just because a complaint was withdrawn does not mean it was frivolous. In this case, clearly Bernie Herpin spent his candidate committee funds to advocate for a yes vote on a ballot question–the recall of John Morse. The complaint claimed that Herpin needed to form an issue committee to make those expenditures and could not do so from his candidate committee.

      I don't know how this question would have been decided if it had gone through the ALJ process. I don't know why the Complaintant asked for dismissal. And sure, even legitimate complaints are often filed for at least partly political purposes. But this case raises a legitimate point of law and therefore is not "frivolous."

      (Note: If this issue has been ajudicated previously and found permissible, then filing a complaint on a previously settled matter could be frivolous. I haven't seen an indication that was the case here.)

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