DENVER — A taxpayer-funded attorney is defending former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper during an ethics investigation into trips he made in 2018.
The state attorney general’s office hired Mark Grueskin, a well-known Democratic elections attorney, to defend Hickenlooper. According to current Governor Jared Polis’ office, Grueskin has billed the state for $43,390 so far, charging $525 per hour.
It's not unusual for an official to get a taxpayer-funded attorney when facing a legal challenge for something that happened in office. But as first reported by the Denver Post and confirmed by Next with Kyle Clark, the money is coming from a post-9/11 economic recovery fund called the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003.
Colorado received approximately $146.3 million from the relief plan to spend on "essential government services."
More than $142 million was spent immediately. Through an executive order from then-Governor Bill Ritter, the initial spending went to more than a dozen items like the Colorado Department of Transportation ($60 million), jobs training programs ($2.5 million), improving the state's DNA testing system ($2.1 million) and dental care for low-income children ($2 million).
The rest was passed along to subsequent administrations. Currently, $953,751 remains, according to a Polis spokesperson, and it’s available “to cover unexpected expenses i.e. legal fees."
Hickenlooper's campaign for the Democratic Senate nomination told Next he was unaware of the source of the funding.
Ethics investigators haven't ruled on whether former Hickenlooper violated Colorado's gift law by accepting free jet travel from wealthy interests. They released a report on their findings earlier this month.
Hickenlooper has held that there was no wrongdoing, and in a previous interview with Next, he told political reporter Marshall Zelinger that journalists should be defending him.
"You guys should be protecting me on stuff like this," he said. "Where there is no -- what's the confusion, that I had a private meeting? No, there are no private meetings. That I somehow saved money myself, I wasn't going to pay for that plane ticket - I saved the state money."
Next attempted to ask Hickenlooper more questions about the investigation at an event Thursday, and ask in person if he knew about the source of his attorney fees. He left without taking questions.
Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission will rule on the complaints at a later date.
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