John Morse's excuse response to the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee regarding an ethics complaint filed against him just got a lot more interesting.

If the ethics committee was a court of law, and Morse has tried to treat it that way to get off on technicalities, then he probably should have plead the Fifth when asked about taking per diem on his paid junkets to California and China.

In his response he actually implicates himself in taking double reimbursement for travel expenses and, even worse, gives substantial proof that he violated Amendment 41 in his trip to China.  

Double Dipping

The two paid junkets to California, San Francisco in November 2009 and San Diego in December 2009, were both paid for by the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL). The NCSL, by the way, is funded in part by dues paid by Colorado taxpayers. In FY2011 the Colorado General Assembly paid $166,753 in dues to the NCSL

What that means is that John Morse had all of his expenses paid for by a group partly funded by taxpayer dollars, and then went and asked taxpayers to give him more money to pay for his already covered expenses.

Many state legislators have taken trips outside the session with the NCSL, yet they haven't taken per diem. Why does John Morse believe he has a special right to extra cash?

Amendment 41

Amendment 41 explicitly forbids travel expenses being paid for by for-profit entities, and only allows non-profit organizations to cover reasonable travel expenses if the non-profit receives no more than 5% of its funding from for-profit sources. 

Morse's paid junket to China appears to have violated Amendment 41 both in the spirit and letter of the law.

In his ethics complaint response he says "in November 2009 I traveled to China with the State Legislative Leaders Foundation for the first Annual Sino/American Legislative Leaders Summit."

A quick Google search of that summit led to this little piece of information:

Sponsored by Thornton Group and PKU Founder Group, organized by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation of the U.S. and General Office of the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress of P.R.C., and hosted by Peking University, the “First Sino-U.S. Provincial/State Legislative Leaders Forum” was held at the Great Hall of the People and on the campus of Peking University November 10th-12th, 2009.

So the trip was paid for exclusively by two for-profit companies, including a Chinese company seeking to curry favor with US legislators.

Even if the Thornton Group and PKU Founder Group passed their contributions through the State Legislative Leader Foundation (SLLF), it still wouldn't pass muster. That is because the SLLF, while a non-profit, gets virtually all of its money from for-profit sources. Per the SLLF:

SLLF receives nearly all its funding from the private sector in the form of annual dues and program sponsorship fees. The Foundation's principal source of private sector funds comes from our 65 member Advisory Council made up of representatives of leading corporations. Advisory Council members are invited to attend all Foundation programs along with state legislative leaders.

So Morse attended a trip paid for by either a Chinese conglomerate or a non-profit who receives "nearly all its funding from the private sector." On top of that the non-profit gets its funding from corporations who donate so they can lobby state legislators at swanky receptions. The sponsoring group helps the case further by listing all the companies represented at the event, including ones that employ lobbyists to affect legislation in the Capitol.

Seems like a pretty clear violation of Amendment 41.

The Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) concurs. There are numerous rulings that it has made on exactly this point which can be found here.

The IEC has further held that Members of the General Assembly are required to either request an advisory opinion from the IEC or submit written documentation proving they are not violating Amendment 41 prior to travel.

Due to these new disclosures we think the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee should widen its inquiry to look into Morse's ostensible violation of Colorado's ethics rules.

That would be the good government thing to do after all, right Senator Carroll?