CO: Cabinet disclosures add strength, but still weaker than those for legislators

By   /   August 23, 2012  /   No Comments

Cabinet members serving Gov. John Hickenlooper have to answer more pointed questions in the name of disclosure.

The latest round of conflict-of-interest disclosures from cabinet officers in the Hickenlooper administration shows that the Governor’s Office has added more direct and detailed questions, something that was missing under the previous administration of Gov. Bill Ritter.

Under Ritter, cabinet officers were asked two rather generic questions: “…describe below all conflicts or potential conflicts of interest, which you may have,” and “Please disclose all outside income.”

Now, under Gov. John Hickenlooper, cabinet members are given eight formal, lengthier, and pointed questions such as: ”Are you, or an immediate member of your family, an officer, director, trustee, partner (general or limited), employee or regularly retained consultant of any company, firm, organization, or municipality which might reasonably be expected to have business dealings with the Governor’s Office or your department/agency in the coming year?”

Several of the questions ask about the business dealings of family members, a feature completely omitted by the Ritter disclosures.

The new disclosure forms drew praise from Jessica Peck, director of the Colorado Open Government Institute.

“These new questions on the disclosure forms are a step in the right direction,” Peck said.  ”Previously, the disclosures were so weak, it’s almost understandable how a potential conflict of interest might have been forgotten, or simply omitted for convenience.  But with questions that ask detailed specifics, a higher legal threshold is set.”

If the new cabinet disclosures are tougher now than before, they still remain a far cry from what members of the General Assembly are asked to disclose. State legislators are asked to accurately list real estate holdings, liabilities including lines of credit (and the associated interest rate), as well as all external sources of income, and are expected to disclose these items whether they represent a conflict of interest or not.

The recent set of cabinet disclosures showed virtually no questionable or unethical activities or dealings within the current administration, as disclosed by the cabinet heads. But that’s not always been the case.

In 2009, the disclosures became a source of embarrassment for the Ritter administration, when it was discovered that only one cabinet member had filed a disclosure during all three years of Ritter’s tenure. When the disclosures were eventually filed, it was revealed that climate-adviser Alice Madden was on the payroll of a national think tank, the Center for American Progress. Soon after, Madden resigned from CAP.

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Todd Shepherd