Sen. Cory Gardner rides an elevator before a vote on the budget agreement at the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
A Democratic-aligned ethics watchdog group is raising questions about whether Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner has personally profited from oil and gas companies whose interests he has advanced in Congress.
A report, planned for release Friday, by the Congressional Integrity Project takes aim at High Plains Communications LLC, the small consulting firm owned by Gardner’s wife, Jaime, a former staffer for the U.S. Department of the Interior. Through the firm, Jaime Gardner has represented multiple clients with ties to the oil and gas industry, including the Consumer Energy Alliance, an “energy education” nonprofit funded by fossil-fuel companies.
“Given Cory Gardner’s previous position on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and his current position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Coloradans deserve to know how his family finances are intertwined with his public policy positions,” the report says. “Instead, the Gardners are concealing information about their potential conflicts.”
Representatives for Gardner’s campaign, his Senate office and the Colorado Republican Party did not return requests for comment.
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Cory Gardner has consistently reported income from High Plains Communications on his Senate financial disclosures, indicating that the Gardners received at least $1,000 in income from the firm in each of the last six years. Congressional ethics rules, however, do not require senators to disclose the exact amount of income their spouses received.
Additionally, Jaime Gardner served as executive director of the Consumer Energy Education Foundation, a group closely linked with the CEA, in 2013 and 2014. Cory Gardner’s financial disclosures for those years did not list Jaime Gardner’s employment by CEEF, which the Congressional Integrity Project’s report calls “a possible violation of Senate ethics rules.”
For years, the Gardners have skirted ethics rules so that Jaime Gardner can profit off of fossil fuels while Cory Gardner boosts those same industries through his Senate office.
– Kyle Herrig, executive director of the Congressional Integrity Project
The Congressional Integrity Project was launched earlier this year, and its staff and board include multiple operatives with ties to Democratic candidates and causes. As a 501(c)(4), “dark money” nonprofit, the group does not disclose its donors.
Cory Gardner and his GOP allies have made ethics issues a central focus of his reelection campaign, relentlessly attacking his Democratic challenger, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, over a series of violations he was judged by a state ethics commission earlier this year to have committed while in office. Hickenlooper was ordered by the panel to pay $2,750 in fines for two violations of the state’s gift ban.
“Gov. Hickenlooper has proven time and time again that he’s in politics for his own interests and not for the people of Colorado,” Gardner said Thursday in a Twitter campaign ad.
High Plains Communications, a Yuma-based business registered with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office in 2006, has little public profile. Its Facebook page, last updated in January 2014, describes it as a “small consulting firm, with specialties in regulatory monitoring, energy education, event planning, writing & editing services.”
An archived copy of High Plains’ website, which has been taken offline, lists past clients including the CEA, the Front Range Energy Career Expo and the Wyoming Conservation Alliance, an anti-regulatory advocacy group co-founded by onetime Wyoming GOP gubernatorial candidate Harriet Hageman. Jaime Gardner also previously served as the director of the Colorado Resource Alliance, described by a 2013 Sunlight Foundation report as a “spinoff” of the WCA.
In a letter expected to be sent Friday to Jaime Gardner, Herrig calls for the disclosure of High Plains Communications’ client list and other details relating to her work on oil and gas issues.
“This information will allow Coloradans to confirm for themselves that your work — and by extension, your family’s bottom line — has not created a conflict of interest,” the letter reads. “It is also an opportunity to reassure the public that no state or federal ethics rules were violated.”
Since his election to the Senate in 2014, Cory Gardner has faced frequent criticism from Democrats on environmental and energy issues, including for his votes to advance the Keystone XL oil pipeline and against an amendment affirming the existence of human-caused climate change.
Critics say that Gardner’s work on oil and gas policy in Congress has overlapped significantly with his wife’s work on behalf of industry interests. In 2011, Gardner, who then represented Colorado’s 4th Congressional District in the House of Representatives, earned enthusiastic praise from CEA president David Holt for authoring a bill to streamline permits for offshore oil drilling on Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf.
Holt confirmed to the Sunlight Foundation in 2013 that Jaime Gardner had “served as a consultant” for CEA beginning in 2009.
“Basic ethical questions remain unanswered,” the Congressional Integrity Project’s report concludes. “What energy clients does High Plains Communications represent? Has Cory Gardner ever had to recuse himself due to his wife’s professional work? And what energy patrons behind Jaime Gardner’s various ventures have had business in front of committees that her husband serves on?”
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