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Publish Date: 9/23/2006

Candidates share gift-giving views


DENVER — Secretary of State candidates Mike Coffman and Ken Gordon both say they support a ballot initiative that proposes new standards of conduct for government officeholders and employees.

The two major-party candidates for attorney general, however, express reservations about the measure.

But politicians’ positions on Amendment 41 may be moot, incumbent Attorney General John Suthers says.

“It’s going to pass,” the Republican Suthers said this week. “It’s got ‘Ethics in Government’ in the name.”

Fern O’Brien, the Democrat running for attorney general, said Amendment 41 may be “overly broad,” but she added that “something has to be done” to address the ethical questions that arise when lobbying, money and lawmaking mix.

Among other provisions, Amendment 41 would prohibit elected state officeholders, some local elected officials and government employees from accepting any gift worth more than $50 other than from a relative or a personal friend.

Amendment 41 also would ban lobbyists from giving any gifts, including meals or tickets, to government officeholders and employees. Lobbyists also would be barred from making gifts to those public officials’ immediate family members.

“The devil’s in the details,” Suthers said Thursday, during the taping of a joint appearance with O’Brien on KBDI TV’s “The Aaron Harber Show.”

“What’s troubling,” Suthers said, is that Amendment 41’s gifts restrictions and bans would extend beyond elected officeholders and top appointed government officials.

The measure brings into question whether local government workers could even accept gifts from fellow employees at Christmastime, Suthers said.

O’Brien said she has a problem with writing the prohibitions into the Constitution, where they could be changed only with another voter-approved constitutional measure, if Amendment 41 turns out to have “unintended consequences.”

O’Brien said scandals in Congress suggest that on both the federal and state levels, “we need to have some control” of lobbyists “basically buying politicians.”

Suthers and O’Brien’s comments on Amendment 41, and their views on the issues in their own election contest, are to be broadcast on Denver Channel 12 at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 29.

The Harber show featuring Republican Coffman and Democrat Gordon was broadcast Friday night.

During a Thursday taping of that program, the two secretary of state candidates specifically endorsed another Amendment 41 provision: a proposed two-year waiting period after elected state government officials leave before they could go to work as professional lobbyists.

Coffman said that when he served in the state House of Representatives, he was concerned about some lawmakers’ “negotiating jobs when they’re still sitting legislators.”

“It was skewing their votes in ways they might not otherwise have voted,” said Coffman, who noted he’d carried an unsuccessful bill proposing a state law that could have halted that practice.

Gordon agreed, saying: “I don’t think we should have a revolving door” between the Legislature and the lobbying corps.

But, Coffman said, “I wish that it wouldn’t create another level of government,” referring to the measure’s establishment of a five-member ethics commission to investigate complaints and assess penalties.

John Fryar can be reached by e-mail at
jfryar@times-call.com.

 
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