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Attorney General Asked to Review Gov. Hickenlooper’s Alleged Trip on Tesla Jet Prior to Seeking New Emission Rules

November 16, 2018

Gov. John Hickenlooper

Colorado’s attorney general is being asked to look into a trip Gov. John Hickenlooper allegedly took to visit Tesla Automotive’s Nevada facility for making electric cars just before ordering the state to take up low-emission vehicle standards.

The trip was allegedly on a corporate jet owned by Tesla or its co-founder and CEO, Elon Musk, according to a letter Sen. John Cooke sent Thursday to Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Hickenlooper’s office on Thursday said the claims were false, and a Tesla spokeswoman on Friday said the same.

Cooke, the senate’s majority whip and a Greeley Republican, said the trip has “a terrible appearance of impropriety,” largely because Tesla would stand to benefit from the executive order and because Hickenlooper didn’t report the free travel as required by law, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Denver Post.

“If any government official receives an illegal benefit days before unilaterally changing the law to financially benefit that same corporation, the matter warrants immediate review,” Cooke wrote to Coffman.

Cooke was not specific about when the trip occurred, but wrote that Hickenlooper “communicated to multiple individuals” about traveling on a private jet to Tesla’s facility.

Hickenlooper’s office said the governor has never flown with Elon Musk or to see any facility in Nevada.

“The allegations in Sen. Cooke’s letter to the attorney general are false,” Hickenlooper’s press secretary, Jacque Montgomery, told The Post in an email. “The governor has never flown on a plane owned by Elon Musk or Tesla. The governor also has never visited a facility in Nevada.”

A spokeswoman at Tesla said Hickenlooper has never flown on a jet provided by Elon Musk or the company, nor is there a record of him visiting their facility in 2018.

Coffman’s office did not respond to a Denver Post request for comment, though it normally does not confirm the existence of specific complaints or investigations.

“With or without three months left in office, he simply needs to be held accountable,” Cooke told The Post on Thursday. “If it was me, I’d expect the same, and it has nothing to do with how much time you have left in office. It’s about acting appropriately or not.”

Hickenlooper in June ordered the state to take up low-emission vehicle standards by 2025, and Tesla could likely be one of its biggest beneficiaries.

Cooke’s letter comes almost five weeks after a far-reaching ethics complaint was filed against the governor alleging that he made a habit of crisscrossing the globe on private jets owned by wealthy benefactors, accepted luxury hotel stays and all-expense-paid events, and then did not disclose them as the law requires.

Amendment 41, approved by voters in 2006, prohibits any state or local elected official or their employees in the executive or legislative branches from accepting virtually any gift worth more than $59.

Part of the ethics complaint, which the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission said it will investigate , includes allegations that Hickenlooper has close ties to Musk, who owns multiple aircraft. One of those ties is to Musk’s brother, Kimbal Musk, a Boulder resident whose April wedding Hickenlooper officiated at in Dallas, allegedly after flying there on a Tesla-owned plane from Rocky Mountain Regional Airport, according to the complaint.

The 189-page complaint by newly formed Public Trust Institute — a nonprofit run by former House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican — lays out nearly 100 questionable flights Hickenlooper has taken since September 2011, when he first took office, primarily focusing on those taken in the last year.

Hickenlooper has dubbed the ethics complaint “frivolous” and a “political stunt” that will come out in his favor. He has until next week to file a response with the IEC, though extensions are often granted.

If Hickenlooper personally paid for the travel and events up front, there’s no need to report them. If he accepted any freebies or even if he reimbursed his hosts after the fact, he must report them, even if they are allowed under Amendment 41 rules. The rules, for example, allow family and close friends to give a public official a gift on special occasions.

Hickenlooper has filed just one gift-disclosure report — in 2017 for a $500 painting given by the first lady of Zambia — since 2013. In that year, he said he had received only T-shirts and hats to the Million Dollar Quartet Musical worth just $90.

Cooke’s letter notes that Executive Order B2018-006 would provide “substantial benefits to Tesla … the only company that initially receives financial benefits from the new program” launched by it.

At the time he announced the order, Hickenlooper said “low-emissions vehicles are increasingly popular with consumers and are better for our air. Every move we make to safeguard our environment is a move in the right direction.”

The order requires the state Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a rule that would establish the LEV program and, in part, incorporate some of the requirements already in place in California. Hickenlooper wants the nine-member Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to take up the proposed rule, which it did Thursday.

The executive order was met with concern from Colorado’s auto dealers, mostly because it leans too much on another state’s programs, where standards and vehicle market share are much different. In particular, nearly 75 percent of Colorado’s registered vehicles are considered trucks, such as pickups and SUVs, whereas California’s figure stands at 53 percent.

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