Congressional candidate refutes ethics question
State Rep. Gregg Rippy defended his ethics record after a Rocky Mountain News columnist questioned whether the congressional candidate should be taking money from lobbyists during the Colorado legislative session.
Peter Blake, who writes “Colorado Politics” for the Rocky Mountain News, took the Glenwood Springs Republican to task in a Jan. 24 column after Rippy invited Colorado lobbyists to a Jan. 29 fund raiser for his congressional campaign. The party was held at state Rep. Bob Fairbanks’ business office in Denver.
Blake pointed out that although it’s illegal for state legislators to take campaign donations during the legislature’s 120-day sessions, it is legal for a federal candidate to take such money – even if he’s serving as a state legislator at the time – because federal election law supercedes state election law in this situation.
“But the letter of the law is not to be confused with its spirit, and Rippy’s legislative rivals for the 3rd Congressional seat take a different view,” Blake wrote.
In a phone interview, Rippy admitted that he sent invitations to statehouse lobbyists, but he disagreed that he broke even the spirit of the law. He said if he’s supposed to be guided by the spirit of the law, that would be the law.
“It’s completely legal,” he said.
Rippy said state legislators accept donations from lobbyists the day before the session begins and the day after it ends. But a campaign for federal office isn’t governed by the same rules as a campaign for state office.
Rippy said unlike state-level campaigns, federal campaigns don’t allow corporate donations, so it can be more difficult to raise the money needed for such a competitive campaign that includes five Democratic candidates and six other Republicans.
“It’s an important difference,” he said.
Rippy said no amount of money donated to his campaign for Congress would affect his decisions at the statehouse.
“I believe my ethics have no calendar,” he said. “I have not qualm one in talking about my ethics.”
Rippy said the subject of whether to accept donations from lobbyists comes up every year.
“I think Peter had a slow news day,” he said of Blake.
Rippy also pointed to other perks routinely accepted by lawmakers during the legislative session, such as tickets to Avalanche games and dinners at fancy Denver restaurants.
“In my opinion, what’s important is their disclosure. Disclosure is the important component to me,” he said. “I think everyone’s got to make their own decision. Lobbyists have to make their own decision, too.”
State Sen. Ken Chlouber, R-Leadville, is among those running against Rippy in the 3rd Congressional District race.
Chlouber called Rippy is a “good friend, a good man and a good legislator,” but he disagreed with Rippy’s decision to take lobbyists’ money during the state legislative session.
“If he’d asked me ahead of time, I’d have told him, “Don’t do that.’ That kind of thing has a real bad smell to it,” Chlouber said. “I guess by the letter of the law it’s legal, but by the spirit of the law, what it does is put him in a bad light. But also it puts the lobbyists in a bad position.”
Chlouber said Rippy “probably got some bad advice.”
“He should have waited until the end of the session,” Chlouber said.
The 2004 legislative session ends May 5.
Another of Rippy’s opponents in the race, state Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, gave his opinion of Rippy’s actions through his intern, Jarrod Biggs.
“He knows it’s completely legal,” Biggs said. “But Salazar won’t solicit campaign donations from statehouse lobbyists because he doesn’t want to raise any ethical issues.”
Rippy said fund-raising events such as the one he held on Jan. 29 aren’t always about money.
“Sometimes it’s about visibility,” he said. “It’s frustrating to me when you play by the rules and you get a columnist with his interpretation of those rules. They want to see the seamy side of politics.
“Come over here and see the work we do,” Rippy added. “People all want to find the seamy side.”