Colorado’s delegates to RNC wined and dined to the tune of $600 each

Sponsorships of Democratic delegates to Charlotte fell into the “trivial value” category
The Colorado Statesman

Corporations, trade groups, individuals and a law firm treated Colorado Republicans who attended the Republican National Convention in August to nearly $600 per person worth of breakfasts, concerts, attire and a luxury lunch-time cruise around Tampa Bay, according to documents obtained by The Colorado Statesman.

RNC delegates, alternates and some guests enjoyed a lavish lobster brunch priced at $62 per person one morning at the Clearwater, Fla., hotel that served as the delegation headquarters, and the Colorado Auto Dealers Association and the Colorado Mining Association picked up the tab. The night before, a consortium of Xcel Energy and AstraZeneca sprung for the $69 tickets to a concert by country star Trace Adkins, and at least some attended the show wearing $29 cowboy hats sponsored by Koch Industries.

And on the convention floor, RNC delegates donned a pair of custom-made western shirts made by Denver’s Rockmount Ranch Wear, which cost Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and the Colorado Credit Union Association $42 apiece. The distinctive shirts — delegates wore a red shirt one day, a white shirt the other — were stitched with the sponsor’s names.

But the priciest benefit enjoyed by the Colorado delegation was a Starship II luncheon and cruise on a yacht that made its way around Tampa Bay on the first official day of the convention, which totaled up to $131 per passenger. Four donors split the tab for that: influential law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck paid $45.54, CH2M Hill paid $34.16, Level 3 Communications paid $28.47 and FedEx paid $22.77 for each of the tickets.

In all, the sponsored meals, items and events arranged by the Colorado Chairman’s Host Committee tallied up to $580, according to the state GOP, though not all convention attendees availed themselves of all the offerings.

The Colorado Republican Party sent an accounting of the sponsorships to RNC delegates and alternates on Oct. 15, the same day state officials had to file a quarterly report listing “gifts, honoraria and other benefits” received through September. (Elected officials and government employees in the state are forbidden from accepting more than $53 worth of gifts, meals or other considerations in a calendar year from any one source under Amendment 41. They can’t accept anything from lobbyists.) The Amendment 41 restrictions only apply to some of those who attended the convention, including several state lawmakers and statewide elected officials.

After an RNC delegate circulated an email raising the possibility that “delegates may be exempt from amendment 41,” the state’s Independent Ethics Commission issued a position statement on Sept. 4 reminding public officials that, indeed, the state constitution applied at political conventions.

“Again,” the position statement read, “the prohibition contains no exceptions for covered individuals attending political events or political conventions. In short, covered individuals must comply with Amendment XXIX at all times, including during attendance at national political conventions.” The statement references the section of the state constitution that incorporates Amendment 41.

In the email sent last week to delegates and others who attended the RNC, state GOP Chairman Ryan Call wrote, “Given our desire to ensure com-pliance with the provisions of Amendment 41 and other state or local ethics and disclosure rules that may apply to elected officials, please find detailed information below that each delegate, alternate delegate, and guest of the Colorado Delegation to the 2012 Republican National Convention to which Amendment 41 applies should report on their quarterly disclosures of gifts, honoraria, and other benefits as re-quired under Section 24-6-203, C.R.S.”

He added that those subject to Amendment 41 requirements were responsible for determining the value of any other gifts bestowed upon the delegation during the convention.

“Kindly note that this information includes only those events and activities sponsored by the Colorado Delegation and the RNC Host Committee itself. If you attended additional receptions, hospitality suites, or other events in connection with the RNC Convention, please be sure to add information regarding the sponsoring organizations and the value of any items received to the report,” Call wrote.

At press time, it appeared that disclosure forms filed by RNC delegates and others subject to Amendment 41 had been logged by the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, but only the form filed by Attorney General John Suthers had yet been made available for public viewing on the site. Suthers, who filed his report on Oct. 11, listed the sponsored luncheon cruise, the shirts and the hat.

According to a revision made to the law this year — it took effect in early August — those subject to Amendment 41 gift restrictions are no longer required to report gifts valued under the $53 limit, a change Colorado Ethics Watch executive director Luis Toro says “guts the intent of the disclosure.”

“The Legislature raised the reporting requirement for ‘an unsolicited item of trivial value’ to $53,” Toro said, which means that, “if people follow the literal words of the statute, they don’t have to report it. But then you have to take their word for it.” He said the change, which he noted had broad, bipartisan support, “takes away the public’s ability to check and verify” the gift ban.

“You’ve hampered the public’s ability to make sure 41’s being followed,” he said, adding that he didn’t foresee much appetite among lawmakers to reinstitute stricter disclosure requirements.

Although officials aren’t required to report the individual gifts valued under $53 from any one source, they do have to make sure that a meal paid for by a particular corporation at the RNC, for instance, doesn’t add up with another meal paid for by the same company at another time in 2012 and push them over the limit, Toro said.

Other sponsored items listed by the state GOP included a $30 welcome reception and the $20 spent on shuttle busses to the reception, paid for by the Republican National Committee 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee; a commemorative delegation button and hat pin costing $4.50, and Monday’s delegation breakfast, priced at $27, both paid for by the delegation chairman, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway; Thursday’s delegation breakfast, which also cost $27 a plate, paid for by the Colorado Dairy Farmers; and the closing-night concert by the rock band Journey, which cost $76 per ticket but was paid for by four donors — PX Energy paid $30, FirstBank paid $12, Lockton Companies paid $12, Telepayment Solutions paid $12 and Charlie Nelson paid $9.

At their own convention held a week later in Charlotte, N.C., state Democrats arranged sponsorships for the delegation’s four breakfasts, held at a restaurant near the hotel that housed the Colorado delegation, but party officials said they didn’t plan on informing delegates because the value of the breakfasts fell well within the “unsolicited item of trivial value” category. A party official said the breakfasts “rounded up,” cost $10 per person.

—Ernest@coloradostatesman.com