Where to Turn When You Are Faced with an Ethics Dilemma

by Jennifer Gilroy

Bravo!! You’ve just realized that the invitation you received today to participate in a legislative conference in Las Vegas, or a business luncheon in your district, or a tour of the southwestern Colorado river basins may actually present an ethics issue that you need to consider before immediately accepting. You are momentarily pleased with yourself for recognizing the ethics issue, but then trepidation sets in as you begin to ponder the many sources of ethics laws in Colorado. Suddenly you are overwhelmed and confused. There’s something about gifts over $53, refusing all gifts from lobbyists, conflicts of interest, and undue influence. The sources of ethics laws in Colorado seem so complicated and confusing and, frankly, you’re really not sure if you understand them well enough to evaluate your situation accurately. Where can you turn for guidance when you are faced with an ethics dilemma?

The following are five resources you can use to evaluate the ethical challenges that you may face from time to time while serving as a member of the Colorado General Assembly.

1. Consult the OLLS Webpage
The Office of Legislative Legal Services has a webpage directly accessible from the General Assembly’s webpage. The menu on the left includes a tab entitled “Ethics Information”. Clicking on this tab will allow you to access a number of resources that might help you assess your ethics situation.
●    Ethics Tutorial. The OLLS has created an on-line tutorial comprised of 25 common ethics dilemmas. You may take the entire tutorial at your leisure in the privacy of your own home or office or you may review the table of contents and simply read the questions (and answers) that pertain to your specific situation. Topics in the tutorial range from conflicts of interest to gifts to use of state resources to post-legislative employment and more. Access the ethics tutorial here.
●    Memorandum on Ethics Laws and Rules for Members of the General Assembly. If you want a “quick-and-dirty” review of the law on rules of conduct, ethics principles, and statutorily mandated disclosure of gifts and honoraria, take a few minutes to review this relatively brief, six-page memorandum that presents the sources of ethics laws from the state constitution to the legislative rules of the House and Senate here.
●    Board of Ethics for the General Assembly – Advisory Opinions. The majority and minority leaders in each chamber appoint a legislator to serve on this four-member, statutorily created board of ethics for the General Assembly. This ethics board issues advisory opinions upon the submission of a written request by a legislator. This tab links you to the three conflict-of-interest-related opinions that the board has issued in the past seven years. If you are grappling with a conflict-of-interest situation, these opinions and other documents may offer you some helpful guidance.
●    Independent Ethics Commission. The Independent Ethics Commission (IEC), created by Article XXIX of the state constitution (often referred to as “Amendment 41”), also issues advisory opinions, letter rulings, and position statements. You can access the IEC’s opinions by topic from their website.

2. Talk to an Attorney at the OLLS
A staff attorney at the OLLS is always available to guide you through the law and the opinions of the IEC and Ethics Board and to assist you in assessing the right course of action.

3. Go to Leadership
The leadership (or other senior member) of your caucus may offer you insight, experience, and guidance that the OLLS cannot. Don’t hesitate to discuss your situation with someone in your caucus whom you respect and who has more experience with these types of situations.

4. Seek an Advisory Opinion from the Ethics Board of the General Assembly
As mentioned, you may wish to seek an advisory opinion from four of your colleagues that comprise the board of ethics for the General Assembly. We recommend this approach in advance of contemplated conduct.

5. Seek an Advisory Opinion from the IEC
In the alternative, the IEC will issue an opinion regarding an ethics issue arising under Article XXIX or any other standard of conduct or reporting requirement set out in law. However, keep the following in mind:
●    The IEC meets only once each month and requests for advisory opinions must be submitted at least 10 days in advance of that meeting.
●    The IEC is subject to open records laws, so you should not expect that your  request will be kept confidential or anonymous.
●    The OLLS can assist you with a request for an advisory opinion from the IEC. However, we cannot provide you with legal counsel if a complaint against you is filed with the IEC.