It is ironic that Rep. Tony Grampsas, R-Evergreen, became the first person ever to be charged under House Rule 49, which established the House Committee on Ethics in 1986. The charge stems from an alleged threat to withhold a $15 million appropriation to the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in order to save the employment of a faculty member who was also Grampsas' personal physician.
"Ironic" because Rep. Grampsas was the person then-Majority Leader Ron Strahle assigned in 1985 to review House votes on two measures alleged to have resulted in "vote trading". Grampsas' assignment: Pick out votes of House members that seemed "contrary" to their normal positions. The subsequent vote-trading investigation resulted in passage of House Rule 49.
The Denver Post in August of 1985 succinctly summarized what happened. "The...issue involves Walt Younglund, R-New Raymer. Colleagues said Younglund agreed to vote against (SB 252) easing the requirement that a percentage of state highway jobs go to minority contractors if Democrats would agree to vote for (SB 105) extending tax incentives for gasohol distributors.
In a Rocky Mountain News story Aug. 20, 1985, John Sanko reported that Attorney General Duane Woodard became involved after then Rep. Peter Minahan, R-Security, wrote a letter to House Speaker Bev Bledsoe saying he believed "several Democrats were prepared ... to vote against Younglund's (SB 105) if the minority highway contractors bill (SB 252) .... was approved." (There were only 18 Democrats in the House in 1985.)
The letter to the Speaker, dated May 31, 1985, triggered the investigation by Woodard which began June 13th. The Woodard report, which is several hundred pages long, was released on Aug. 19th, 1985 and made for "hot" reading, since legislators interviewed were NOT told their utterly candid comments about fellow legislators would be made public.
In a Denver Post story the day after the release: "It's like reading Peyton Place, said a secretary, one of many Statehouse employees...who pored over the...report. There were references to lawmakers' drinking habits, their personalities, and the kind of racial jokes they often tell."
Another told Sanko of the RMN, "It's like taking a trip through a sewer in a glass-bottom boat." And yes, this columnist was one of those interviewed by the attorney general's office. In the report, "Rep. Kopel described Walt Younglund as not realizing how stupid he is at times."
Copies of the report, a public document, were lodged in Legislative Council, the State Archives, and the Attorney General's office as well as handed out to the legislators and the press.
Woodard held a press conference upon release of the report and recommended, according to a Sanko story that "the House conduct its own investigation. He said there was sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation and to possibly censure or expel legislators who might have been involved."
Quoting Woodard, "The evidence concerning Rep. Younglund, however, is qualitatively different from that concerning any other House member, because it includes reports of admissions by him that strongly imply his participation in and awareness of wrongdoing."
Woodard said he couldn't prosecute Younglund because the ban on legislative vote-trading provided no criminal penalties, only expulsion by the legislature. So he urged the House to set up its own fact-finding committee to deal with any violations.
The legislature was meeting at the time in an August special session, and Minority Leader David Skaggs, D-Boulder, introduced a resolution to establish a legislative ethics committee. It was sent to House State Affairs and killed on a 6 to 3 partisan vote. Rep. Younglund, a member of the committee, abstained from voting.
In a Denver Post article by reporter Cindy Parmentor, House Speaker Bledsoe "said he won't order an investigation of Younglund because the attorney general didn't obtain any conclusive evidence that vote trading occurred. The House couldn't duplicate that work during the three days it will be in session this week. And I believe it would be too late to begin an investigation when the Legislature reconvenes in January."
Speaker Bledsoe addressed the House the day the report was handed out. He said he would recommend a system to be placed in the House Rules in January, 1986 similar to a bi-partisan committee of representatives to constitute an investigative board with the power to hire counsel and investigators, subpoena witnesses and place them under oath, and act generally as a grand jury operates and to recommend action to the House.
It would require a two thirds vote for expulsion from the House and 33 votes to censure a member. He also wanted to define what vote-trading is, and "this may need to be done by statute."
Meanwhile the Senate looked on with bemused interest. The Senate Rule 41 on Ethics was first adopted in 1973 and goes far beyond what is required by the state constitution. In many instances, three or four senators will abstain from voting, citing Rule 41, even though their "yes" votes are needed for passage of a bill.
The House also "adopted" a Code of Ethics in 1973, House Rule 48, which was simply a comprehensive disclosure of assets by each House member. It was repealed in 1977.
In January 1986, Speaker Bledsoe introduced HR 1006 which is now House Rule 49. Co-sponsors, all Republicans, were Bath, Dambman, Herzog, Mielke, Pankey, Taylor-Little, and Younglund.
At the close of the August special session of 1985, Minahan told Sanko of the RMN that he was worried about public reaction. "The public already perceives us as trading votes all the time. They know we're not supposed to trade votes, but yes we do. And when we have an investigation to find out about it, we don't do anything. I think that's a real negative."
Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.
Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel