Morse files response, asks that complaint be dismissed

The Colorado Statesman

Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, has asked that an ethics complaint filed against him by the Colorado Government Accountability Project (CoGAP) be dismissed on grounds that it fails to “articulate a factual basis, the particulars of a charge” and the alleged violations of law cited in the complaint.

“It falls short of demonstrating any cause whatsoever, much less probable cause that a violation of Senate rules has occurred,” Morse wrote in his March 28 letter to the Senate Ethics Committee.

The committee is slated to meet Thursday noon to review Morse’s response, according to chair Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora.

The complaint, filed March 10 by CoGAP and its director, Stephanie Cegielski, alleged “misuse of taxpayer dollars and possible criminal violations,” and says Morse billed the General Assembly for per diem reimbursement for 221 off-session days in 2009. The complaint was amended on March 20 to correct an error in the number of days claimed to 211. Morse stated in his response that the actual number of days is 206.

In his response, Morse said one of the most “precious, valued and fragile assets acquired over one’s lifetime is a reputation for integrity and fair dealing,” a reputation Morse said he has built through his career in public accounting and as a police chief.

According to the letter, Senate Rule 43 (d) requires the ethics committee to determine whether probable cause exists that a violation of Senate rules occurred.

“The [CoGAP] complaint cites no statute, rule or regulation as the standard of conduct required or constrained,” Morse wrote. “There are no statements of fact that can be measured against any standard of conduct, even if one were offered.”

With regard to collecting per diem for legislative leadership activities, Morse said leadership work adds significantly to legislative responsibilities, and the Legislature provides per diem to reflect the increased workload. “Ms. Cegielski offers her personal opinion of what the standard for per diem should be,” Morse said. “Presumably, a member of leadership claims the reimbursement when doing work related directly to his leadership responsibilities,” Cegielski wrote in her complaint.

But Cegielski’s interpretation is not supported by the complaint “and is contrary to both the statute and legislative intent,” Morse responded.

Cegielski used as sole proof of her allegations a comparison of Morse’s 2009 calendar and the per diem requests. “Ms. Cegielski made assumptions that if my calendar was blank on a particular day then I did not work on legislative matters,” Morse wrote, and that if the calendar was inconsistent with the reimbursement form, the calendar was “the controlling document. The reverse is true — the forms, certified and submitted for reimbursement, control,” Morse said.

Morse also said the claim that he had collected per diem far in excess of other legislative leaders was inappropriate, and that the better measure would be the workload associated with his position. Morse cited the number of assigned committees, out of session, that he was responsible for, in contrast to the attendance at out of session committees by other legislative leaders. Morse attended 31 meetings of six different committees; more than all the committee attendance made by the other five legislative leaders combined. Morse attached minutes of all of those meetings that showed his attendance, as well as records reflecting the attendance of the other legislative leaders at out of session committee meetings.

A second group of allegations, Morse wrote, deals with a comparison of the calendar and his claims for per diem reimbursement for constituent work. “The allegation is that I claimed I was engaged in constituent work when I was not,” he wrote.

Morse explained that the calendar is “a planning tool, not a log.” Most of his day is unscheduled, he wrote, and “I do not update my calendar with events that were not scheduled, nor do I delete events” that he did not attend. In addition, he said, the calendar is not required documentation to support per diem requests “and its use for that purpose is inappropriate.”

Morse said he submitted the legal forms required by Legislative Council for reimbursement.

Finally, the allegations by CoGAP that Morse was improperly reimbursed for per diem for travel is not true, he said. Two of the trips were for the National Conference of State Legislatures; the third, to China, was with the State Legislative Leaders Foundation.

“These were heavily scheduled business trips with work assignments that fell completely within the scope of the statute,” he wrote. “Each of these trips were in my capacity as Senate Majority Leader and were on behalf of the Senate and people of Colorado.”

Cegielski told The Colorado Statesman on Tuesday that “I have not yet seen Sen. Morse’s response although I assume it is thorough and provides the ethics panel with adequate information to consider in rendering their decision.”