We’ve been following the silly saga of an ethics complaint filed against former Gov. John Hickenlooper by a partisan “watchdog” organization ever since allegations against the now-U.S. Senate candidate first appeared in late 2018. These charges always looked flimsy, and they are now completely dissolving as we get closer to a conclusive hearing by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission in March.
“The Public Trust Institute…acknowledged that it had no evidence…”
— The Colorado Sun (via “The Unaffiliated” newsletter, 2/14/20)
This “ethics complaint” was filed in October 2018 by an organization called The Public Trust Institute, a right-wing group headed up by the shady former Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty. Hickenlooper and allies have long argued that the complaint was nothing but a politically-motivated hit job, and it’s always been tough to disagree; The Public Trust Institute, after all, was created literally two days before it filed the Hickenlooper allegations. Subsequent reports have revealed that the information provided in the ethics complaint came from America Rising PAC, a well-known Republican opposition research firm.
Unfortunately for PTI and America Rising PAC, no amount of research can dig up facts that don’t exist. Check out this paragraph from “The Unaffiliated,” a political newsletter published by The Colorado Sun (no link available):
This week, in a little-noticed move, the commission dismissed elements of key claims made in the complaint regarding the airfare and hotel for Hickenlooper’s trip to the Bilderberg conference in Italy, the cost of a hotel during a trip to Connecticut and the use of a private airline terminal in New Jersey. The Public Trust Institute, the dark-money funded conservative political group that filed the complaint in 2018, acknowledged that it had no evidence to show those travel arrangements amounted to an inappropriate gift to the governor and the state’s Independent Ethics Commission dismissed those matters. [Pols emphasis]
From the beginning, the entire purpose of this “ethics complaint” was to generate some negative headlines for Hickenlooper that could be exploited by Republicans in 2020 — whether Hickenlooper was a candidate for President or for U.S. Senate. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) eventually ended up spending less than $1,000 on a half-assed digital advertising campaign that was abandoned just days later.
It is absurd that an “ethics complaint” supported with zero evidence could generate media coverage of any kind, but McNulty and friends worked Colorado reporters hard to squeeze out a tiny bit of hysteria by insisting that ignoring the Hickenlooper allegations was an example of liberal media bias. McNulty’s biggest success was to get The Denver Post to start referring to money allocated to Colorado through “The Bush Tax Cuts” as a “Post-9/11 Recovery Fund,” which then emboldened them to allege that Hickenlooper’s legal defense was coming from a fund meant for 9/11 survivors. This was nonsense, but it generated a few news clips nonetheless.
The editorial board of The Denver Post was correct in November 2019 when it wrote, “the most sensational accusations [in this complaint] are easy to dismiss.” Common sense should have prevailed among journalists by then, even as McNulty and pals like Suzanne Staiert furiously tried to keep the fires burning, but the hint of potential scandal in an otherwise boring U.S. Senate primary helped the story to limp along for a bit longer.
Anybody can file an “ethics complaint” with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission — you can do it yourself right now by just downloading the complaint form. The moral of this story is simple: A mere complaint doth not a scandal make.
Also, stop taking calls from Frank McNulty.