Colorado's newly-elected Secretary of State Scott Gessler plans to continue work at his old election law firm while in office, the Denver Business Journal reported on Friday.
Gessler told the Business Journal that he needs extra money to supplement the $68,500 he will make annually as Secretary of State. A former partner with Hackstaff and Gessler LLC, now the Hackstaff Law Group, Gessler said he's taking more than a 50% pay cut in his new job.
Gessler says he plans to work about 20 hours per week with the firm, and will avoid election cases.
Nonetheless, the arrangement is drawing criticism from ethics watchdogs.
"To the extent he is working for his old firm and his old firm is dealing with the Secretary of State's office, it creates a real conflict," Elena Nunez, program director for Colorado Common Cause, told the Denver Post. "In some cases it may just be the appearance of conflict.
Gessler told the Post he was confident he could avoid conflicts of interest.
"It's pretty darn simple," he said. "I look at what's best for the state of Colorado. When I represent a client, I represent them to win."
That explanation was unsatisfactory to Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch, who told the Colorado Independent that Gessler is asking the public to simply accept that he is acting in the State's interest.
"Assuming it's feasible for [Gessler and Hackstaff] to carve out areas of law for him to practice that don't present a conflict with his responsibilities as Secretary of State, how is the public supposed to monitor that... That [challenge] is inconsistent with the idea of public oversight of public officials."
Before being sworn in, Gessler had to deflect criticism over a former legal client's fine being cut in half, although it was widely acknowledged that Gessler had nothing to do with that incident.
Among Hackstaff and Gessler LLC's clients was Western Tradition Partnership, a controversial right-wing 527 that inspired--in large part--the introduction of legislation that would force forcing 501(c)4 groups to disclose political donations.
Gessler told the Post he may also perform some jobs teaching election law or legislative policy.
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