Ethics Commission Releases Hickenlooper Jet Travel Investigation Report

John Hickenlooper AARP Forum
Charlie Neibergall/AP
Then Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper speaks during a presidential candidates forum sponsored by AARP and The Des Moines Register, Monday, July 15, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission has released its investigation into whether former Gov. John Hickenlooper improperly accepted free lodging and travel on private jets, a violation of state laws against corporate gifts. The report doesn’t draw any conclusions but includes evidence and interviews. 

A final determination will happen in 2020.

The complaint was filed in 2018 by Public Trust Institute, a group headed by former Republican state Speaker of the House Frank McNulty. He alleged a pattern of improper travel that dated back several years. The commission, however, limited its scope to just trips between September 2017 and September 2018, Hickenlooper’s final year as governor. 

The investigation included witness interviews and receipts regarding trips Hickenlooper took on private jets to Italy, Texas, New Jersey and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. 

One exhibit shows a $1,000 personal check Hickenlooper wrote to Kimbal Musk's charity Big Green, the brother of Elon Musk, after Hickenlooper and his wife flew on Musk’s jet to Dallas to officiate at his wedding.

“Respondent tendered the check just before he boarded the airplane,” according to the investigation. “Mr. Musk reports that he at first refused the check but that Respondent insisted he accept it. Mr. Musk ultimately accepted the check. The check was not cashed. Mr. Musk said he believed the check was the approximate value of a first-class commercial ticket.”

Amendment 41, which Colorado voters approved in 2006, restricts the value of gifts elected officials can receive. 

“The report from the Independent Ethics Commission underscores a pattern of illegal behavior by John Hickenlooper violating Colorado’s ethics laws,” McNulty said. “Looking at the report this should be an open and shut case. He’s guilty.”

McNulty expects a formal hearing in early 2020. Then the ethics commission will make a final determination on whether the former governor violated the gift ban. Hickenlooper, who is now a candidate in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, has long maintained the complaint is frivolous and partisan. 

“The Denver Post editorial board has already called these complaints ‘politically motivated lies,’ and they were filed by a dark money Republican group. The fact-finding report released today is a routine and required step in the review process that we hope will proceed on a timely basis,” said Hickenlooper for Colorado spokeswoman Melissa Miller.