- Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs
State lawmakers have defeated an effort to limit the gifts they can receive from corporations, universities, special interest groups and lobbyists.
Late last week, 28 House representatives supported House Bill 1176 when it came to the House floor. But 32 did not, meaning lawmakers can continue to receive unregulated gifts -- leaving Colorado as the only state in the union with no restrictions.
"Some people got insulted," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs. "They thought this makes them look bad. I say, 'No. It makes us look good.'"
Merrifield had expressed frustration last month that few of his colleagues supported his ethics-reforming measure. Still, he had managed to convince a committee to send the bill to the House floor, but only after the bill's call for a ban on speaking fees was dropped and a provision that would have prohibited legislators from receiving fees for political consulting was deleted.
In the end, the bill limited cash gifts to $25, presents and trinkets to a maximum value of $50 and sporting and other tickets to $200.
"It was a modest bill compared to 49 other states that have bans or some kind of limit on gifts," Merrifield said.
Most frustrating to Merrifield was that he couldn't find enough of his fellow Democrats -- who control both the House of Representatives and Senate -- to support the bill. He said he plans to speak with colleagues from both parties in hopes of garnering their support for a similar measure next year.
Last month, an Independent investigation of the gift disclosure forms lawmakers file with the Colorado secretary of state found that 10 of El Paso County's 12 representatives and senators had accepted about $11,300 worth of gifts last year from various lobbying interests.
Gifts ranged from travel to Taiwan and golfing excursions to free movie passes and meals.
Some lawmakers defended their prerogative to accept gifts, stating the items were not inappropriate. One lawmaker felt comfortable receiving gifts so long as state law continues to require disclosure.