Jun 22, 2022 - Politics

Group led by Colorado attorney general criticized for potential conflicts

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser at the state Capitol in January 2020. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/Denver Post via Getty Images
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser at the state Capitol in January 2020. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/Denver Post via Getty Images

The Attorney General Alliance, an organization led by Colorado's Phil Weiser, is facing criticism for courting $50,000 donations from lobbyists and corporate partners to pay for its lavish conferences and foreign junkets.

Why it matters: State attorneys general wield immense influence over public safety and consumer matters with huge financial implications for corporate America, Axios' Lachlan Markay and John Frank report.

Driving the news: Chris Toth, former executive director of the National Association of Attorneys General, contended in his recent retirement letter that the Attorney General Alliance — a competitor — is selling access to lobbyists and corporate patrons.

  • Toth wrote that he's "increasingly alarmed" at the influence of money from entities that are being investigated by attorney generals and donors who "essentially buy programming."

Zoom in: In some cases, the companies that are ponying up tens of thousands of dollars to get exclusive access are the same ones being investigated by the officials.

  • Two prominent donors to the alliance — Comcast and TurboTax — recently settled legal disputes with Weiser, Colorado's attorney general who serves as the alliance's chairman.

What he's saying: In an interview, Weiser disputed the allegations made in the letter and sidestepped suggestions about conflicts of interest.

  • The Democrat said he is not involved in any fundraising for the alliance and didn't recall any conversations with sponsors about pending legal matters while attending the organization's events.

He also refuted claims that donors influence programming. "The alliance has a very clear policy, which is that the substance of the conference is governed by the AGs. The donors don't get to direct the substance of what is talked about," he said.

When it comes to buying access, Weiser rejected the idea.

  • "Anyone who wants access to me can have access to me. Nobody needs to go to any conference," he said.

Yes, but: Weiser, who is seeking reelection in November — didn't distance himself from the alliance's fundraising practices.

  • In the interview, he only faulted the group for failing to better communicate to the public about their work.

Of note: His comments are the first from alliance leadership since Axios reported about documents detailing the cozy relationship earlier this week.

Between the lines: Colorado plays an outsized role in the alliance dating back to its earlier iteration as the Conference of Western Attorneys General. The organization drew support from Democratic and Republican office holders in the state.

  • As chairman, Weiser chooses one project to highlight. In his case, it's called the Ginsburg-Scalia Initiative to improve dialogue and collaborative problem-solving.

The intrigue: The alliance has a reputation as a more opulent organization than the NAAG, including playing host to junkets to foreign countries organized in part with a consultant who serves as an agent to those nations' governments.

  • Weiser said he's only attended domestic conferences — including the one last week in Sun Valley, Idaho, and he has not taken any of the international trips.

The other side: Republicans looking to unseat Weiser took note of his role.

  • Kristi Burton Brown, state GOP chairwoman said in a statement to Axios that, "Colorado's top law enforcement officer should be focused on fighting for Coloradans not major campaign donors and lobbyists."

The backstory: Inside state AGs' corporate cash cow

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