Legislative panel clears Balmer of ethics violation

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

An ethics complaint lodged by House Minority Leader Mike May against Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, was dropped because there was no evidence to support it.

Assistant House Minority Leader Balmer was accused of influencing a lobbyist to become an “active participant” in last month’s Republican House leadership race, in violation of legislative rules.

In a 5-0 vote, a Joint House Ethics Committee determined that there was “no probable cause” that Balmer had committed an offense.

A few weeks ago, Balmer told The Colorado Statesman, “I am confident that I will be exonerated.”

His prediction came true. But the complaint against Erik Groves, a lobbyist for Colorado Chiropractic Association, is pending until Feb. 3, when it will be determined by a separate committee.

A few hours after the committee vindicated Balmer, the Colorado Chiropractic Association hired Jeff Crank, of Colorado Springs, to assume Groves’ lobbyist duties — without first notifying Groves.

Crank, a Republican who ran unsuccessful campaigns for the 5th
Congressional District in 2006 and 2008, is a former state and federal lobbyist for several entities, including the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

The move to hire Crank and replace Groves was unusual because most lobbyists’ contracts can be voided only based on a morals clause or terminated after 60 days notice.

Groves has not been found guilty of breeching a morals clause and was not informed of a change in the association’s lobbyist representation until reporters called.

On Thursday, Balmer was obviously elated to have this burden lifted — 53 days after the allegations were made based on a complaint filed by Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, who suggested he had prompted Groves to solicit her vote in the House minority leadership race.

“The records and testimony showed clearly that I had no involvement,” said Balmer, who planned a victory dinner with his wife, Karen, at the Cool River Café in Greenwood Village.

“I’m very blessed to have my wife, Karen, who has stood by me and has been a constant source of encouragement throughout this ordeal,” said Balmer. “I’m very blessed. This dinner is to thank her for being such a great support to me.”

Balmer did not attend the crack-of-dawn hearing, but was represented by his attorney, Jon Anderson of Holland & Hart.

Last week, Anderson submitted Balmer’s phone logs, call notations and personal response to the allegations, as requested by the ethics committee. The documents showed no evidence of contact between Balmer and Groves or the chiropractors, which would have been essential to prove any type of collusion to support May’s ethics charge.

“I did not have any contact with Erik Groves between the time I was first notified that Representative May was resigning and the time I was first notified that Representative May filed the complaint. I did not contact or communicate with any lobbyist to ask for, coordinate with, or in any way imply that the lobbyist support my effort of running for House Minority Leader,” declared Balmer in his written and signed statement to the ethics committee.

It took less than 15 minutes for the committee to review the documentation.

“I don’t think we have probable cause to go any further,” said the committee chairwoman, Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder.

“I hold no grudge in my heart against anybody for having to go through this,” Balmer told reporters. “I appreciate the committee studying the facts that showed I had no involvement.”

Groves and two chiropractors, who also had called Acree, had filed sworn statements saying that they had not consulted or informed Balmer of their communication with the Aurora legislator.

Acree filed a complaint on Dec. 16 accusing Groves and the two chiropractors of contacting her to influence her vote in a House leadership election between Balmer and Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.

The race began Dec. 12, when May announced his intention to retire in January. However, after hearing of Acree’s calls, May withdrew his plans to retire and filed the ethics complaint against Balmer on Dec. 16.

Luis Toro, senior counsel of Colorado Ethics Watch, released the following statement in response:

“Ethics Watch is disappointed that the Ethics Committee chose to accept at face value Rep. Balmer’s denial of involvement in the scheme to influence the House Minority Leader election, instead of asking the tough questions left unanswered by Rep. Balmer and his lawyers. The Committee’s decision shows why voters chose to establish an Independent Ethics Commission (“IEC”) instead of trusting the Legislature to investigate its own members. Ethics Watch will consider requesting the IEC to pick up the ball that the Ethics Committee dropped today, and renews its call for state and federal authorities to investigate the possible scheme to buy votes in the House Minority Leader election.”

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com