Featured, Governor Polis, Independent Ethics Commision, Sherrie Peif

Ethics complaint says former Polis chief of staff approved his own sweetheart state contract

DENVER — An organization that bills itself as demanding “accountability, transparency and honesty in government,” filed a complaint Wednesday with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission against Governor Polis’ political consultant and former Chief of Staff Rick Palacio.

The complaint, filed by Defend Colorado, claims to have evidence of multiple constitutional and statutory ethics violations. Although it is unclear who exactly is behind Defend Colorado, as its website only says it’s an alliance of state community leaders, communications from the group come through its lawyer, former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler.

George Brauchler

According to a news release about the complaint, Polis paid back political favors by giving his longtime political consultant Rick Palacio a full-time job with the state. And, while employed by the state, Palacio received an $85,000 no-bid government contract that was approved by Polis’ chief of staff while Palacio was serving in that role.

“I just think it’s ridiculous that someone who is occupying one of the top positions in the governor’s cabinet that oversees the governor’s cabinet is drawing up a contract for himself while he’s there and then while he’s out the door, he’s guaranteed another $14,000 a month,” Brauchler told Complete Colorado.

According to Brauchler, Palacio served as Polis’ political consultant, receiving $329,000 in political fees during Polis’ successful run for Governor in 2018. After he was elected, Polis hired Palacio full-time with a salary of more than $15,000 per month to serve as interim chief of staff, he also received an additional $15,000 per month from the state as a consultant during the same time. And Palacio himself approved his own no-bid contract while he was the acting chief of staff.

“This scheme not only violates public trust in state government but violates multiple provisions of state law,” Brauchler said in the new release. This is a brazen disregard of Colorado’s ethics laws and wanton abandonment of the Rule of Law. Providing lucrative state contracts to a political operative is bad enough, but then having the political operative receive a consulting contract while serving as a full-time state employee is illegal. These are intentional and egregious ethical abuses at the highest level of state government. This is exactly why people distrust government right now. If there is an innocent explanation for this self-dealing, Coloradans look forward to hearing it.”

According to the complaint, the actions by Governor Polis and Palacio, who is also the former Chairman of the Colorado Democrat Party, violated four specific state statutes and the Colorado Constitution:

  • State law prohibits a public employee from engaging in a substantial financial transaction for private business purposes with a person whom the employee supervises. C.R.S. § 24-18-108 (a)
  • State statute prohibits a public employee from performing an act to provide an economic benefit to a business which the state employee has a financial interest. C.R.S. C.R.S. § 24-18-108 (d)
  • State statute prohibits a state entity from engaging in any contract involving an employee of the same entity. C.R.S. § 24-18-201(1)
  • State statute prohibits a former employee from entering into a contract with their former state agency for six months. C.R.S. § 24-18-201(1)
  • State statute prohibits a state employee from obtaining employment within six months in which the employee could have a direct advantage, unavailable to others, of matters through their previous employment. C.R.S. § 24-18-105(3)
  • Amendment 41 is clear that any effort to realize personal financial gain through public office other than compensation provided by law is a violation of the public trust. Colo. Const. Article XXIX, §1(1)(c)

Ironically, the one Amendment Brauchler is using to file the complaint under, is the very Amendment Polis campaigned on behalf of in 2006 when he was the co-chair of Coloradans for Clean Government and arguing against gifts received under Republican Gov. Bill Owens at the time.

“We think Coloradans are fed up with the corrupting influence of all these freebies and the cozy relationships that lobbyists cultivate,” Polis said, then, in an opinion piece for the Aspen Times. “Coloradans rightfully question whether public officials are fighting for their interest or for the special interests. … The purpose of the ethics initiative is clear. Public officials must avoid conduct that is in violation of their public trust; any effort to realize personal financial gain through public service … is a violation of that trust.”

Brauchler said this flies in the face of a state statute that says when you work for the state you must wait six months before acting as a consultant for any one on anything from the same agency.

“When questioned about this, all the governor’s office could say is he’s a valuable member of our COVID team,” Brauchler said. “It’s what you seen when you have one party in control of all the levers of state government.”

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