DENVER | Those private flights taken by Democrat John Hickenlooper while he was governor have come back to haunt his Senate campaign.
The National Republican Senate Campaign released an ad Wednesday taking aim at “joyriding John Hickenlooper,” now embroiled in a state ethics investigation over whether he accepted free private jet travel in 2018 in violation of the state’s gift ban.
“When John Hickenlooper was governor, he didn’t let pesky little things like the state constitution or ethics rules get in the way of his travel time,” said the video ad called, “Joyride John Hickenlooper Travel Agency.”
The ad comes with the state Independent Ethics Commission slated to take up the matter Thursday after issuing a report last month on the trips, which included the use of a private aircraft to officiate at the 2018 Dallas wedding of Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal Musk.
The commission previously dismissed elements of the complaint after Mr. Hickenlooper showed that he reimbursed his hosts for some costs, but denied in October a request to dismiss the matter.
Mr. Hickenlooper has insisted that he followed state rules, while former Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican who brought the matter before the commission last year, said that the five trips still under consideration by the panel “show that Hickenlooper is absolutely guilty of breaking state law.”
“If they accept these excuses that the governor’s legal counsel is offering, then they gut Colorado’s ethics rules altogether,” said Mr. McNulty, founder of the year-old Public Trust Institute. “At that point, there is no ethics standard in the state of Colorado.”
The Hickenlooper campaign has accused a “dark money group” of mounting a politically motivated attack, while Mr. McNulty points out that he filed the complaint in October 2018, well before the ex-governor dropped his presidential bid and entered the Senate contest in August.
Polls show that Mr. Hickenlooper, a millionaire who made his money in the restaurant business, leads the Democratic pack vying to unseat first-term Sen. Cory Gardner, considered one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Republicans in a state rapidly trending blue.
The other travel under consideration by the commission include partial expenses for a June 2018 trip for the Bilderberg Meetings in Turin, Italy; a March 2018 trip for the commissioning of the USS Colorado in Connecticut, paid for by M.D.C. Holdings; a January 2018 flight on a private aircraft from New Jersey, where his wife was having a medical procedure; and a private flight from Dallas to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for an American Enterprise Institute symposium.
In an interview last month with 9News in Denver, Mr. Hickenlooper said he had “every confidence we did everything — we filled out every form, we did everything right, exactly the way we were told.”
He added that the media should be on his side.
“You guys should be protecting me on stuff like this,” Mr. Hickenlooper said, adding, “I’ll be very surprised if they come back and say in any way this is unethical.”
Criticism has also centered on his state-appointed legal counsel, Denver attorney Mark Grueskin, who has been paid more than $43,000 from unspent federal funds allocated in 2003 to help the state’s economy after 9/11, according to documents obtained by The Denver Post.
Under Amendment 41, the strict 2006 ethics ballot measure sponsored by now-Gov. Jared Polis, public officials cannot accept gifts whose value exceeds $65 per year, with exceptions for gifts from family and personal friends, as well as nonprofits that receive less than 5% of their budget from corporations.