Conservatives often complain about highly paid government jobs, but in Colorado, the recently elected Republican secretary of state says his job doesn't pay enough.
So he plans to continue working part-time for his former law firm
, which specializes in elections law -- an area overseen by the secretary of state's office.
's decision, which he says he would have mentioned during the election had the media asked, is raising ethical concerns.
The Denver Business Journal
reported Friday that Gessler will work 20 hours a month -- on weekends -- for Hackstaff Law Group. Gessler was a partner in the firm until he was bought out before taking office in early January.
"It sounds like there's some potential for a conflict of interest," said Beth Rosenson
, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who wrote "The Shadowlands of Conduct: Ethics and Politics in the States." "He's not working that many hours, but if there's a conflict, there's a conflict."
For instance, Rosenson said, Gessler's former firm might represent clients in initiative or candidate petitions, which the secretary of state is required to validate signatures and certify.
Liberal groups in Colorado were quick to criticize the arrangement.
"Hackstaff continues to represent numerous political organizations that do business with the secretary of state's office," said a news release from Strong Colorado
, a partnership of groups with progressive agendas. "The law firm will not disclose Gessler's part-time salary and cannot reveal the legal clients."
Gessler may have a valid complaint about his pay which, at $68,500, is on the low side nationally.
According to Sunshine Review
, a nonprofit wiki that collects information on state and local government, the average salary for elected secretaries of state is $101,160; the median is $95,200. Only the secretaries of state in Wisconsin ($65,079). Arkansas ($54,594), Georgia ($64,394) and Maryland ($67,345) make less than Gessler.
But Gessler's pay is in line with other elected officials in Colorado. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's salary of $90,000 ranks 48th in the nation, according to Sunshine Review. The average governor's pay is $128,735, the median is $129,962.
Colorado's median income for a one-earner family in 2009 was about $48,000, according to the U.S. Census.
The median income for a three-person family was almost $70,000.
Rosenson said it's typical for state lawmakers to have second jobs, but legislators in most states are part-time and paid that way.
Gessler told the Denver Post
he needed a second job to support his wife, child and elderly mother. "What I'm doing is I'm trying to square my state service with family obligations," Gessler told the Post.
New Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is also holding down two jobs
-- but they're both in government. Garcia will earn $146,000 annually as the director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and that salary will cover him doing both jobs at a savings to the state
of $80,000. The lieutenant governor's job pays the same as the secretary of state .
Garcia's double-duty -- and higher pay -- isn't generating any outrage.
It's different with Gessler, who in November defeated a Democrat who was appointed secretary of state in 2008, when Gessler also applied for the job.
In profiling the 2008 candidates, the weekly political newspaper Colorado Statesman called Gessler
"about as partisan a Republican as they come. Check out any public filing for a 527 or a 501(c)4 group that's running attacks against a Democrat, and you're likely to find Gessler as the group's registered agent."
GOP political organizations affiliated with Gessler or his former firm have been the subject of frequent campaign finance complaints, including failing to file reports on campaign spending. The Colorado Democratic Party
listed Gessler's past clients and their actions (including his representation of a group that went through a private trash bin to find political memos to use in a campaign finance complaint).
Most recently, the Colorado Independent Auto Dealers Association, represented by Gessler, faced a $504,500 fine for failing to file reports with the secretary of state. The fine was reduced
to $8,475 a few weeks before Gessler took office.
Gessler also has been linked to numerous complaints filed against Democratic politicians, including a dismissed action
against his 2010 opponent, former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher.
In another twist, Buescher recently took a job
in the Colorado attorney general's office representing the executive branch of government including -- yes -- the secretary of state's office.
Gessler told the Denver Business Journal that he'd make sure his outside legal work didn't conflict with his full-time job overseeing elections, business licensing and more. He said he also hoped to teach law classes at local universities to earn extra cash. And he told the Business Journal he didn't plan to recuse himself from cases his former firm brought before his office, since most would be handled by his staff.