The overwhelming share of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission's business (about 85%) takes place in closed sessions. The Commission's five members are appointed by the governor, both chambers of the General Assembly, the Colorado Supreme Court and the commission itself.
The Colorado Independent, an online magazine that does original reporting (full disclosure, it is a successor to Colorado Confidential, for which I used to work), sued to get fuller disclosure of those closed sessions.
It won its lawsuit filed pursuant to the Colorado Open Meetings Law. Now, as a result, meeting audiotapes will be released. Disclosures of the matters to be considered in executive sessions have also become far more detailed, in part due to litigation by Colorado Ethics Watch, a public advocacy group focused on transparency and political ethics, which has also been a key player in litigation over the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, and has a good working relationship with the Colorado Independent.
The commission isn't pleased:
"The commission was very upset by [Denver District Judge Norman] Haglund’s decision,” said executive director Jane Feldman during testimony Friday on the open meetings lawsuit, “and there have been discussions about seeking changes in legislation because they are very concerned about confidentiality.”
The commission has "argued the commission is forbidden by law from releasing any discussions about complaints alleging ethical misconduct later dismissed as “frivolous,” and the names of people — usually lobbyists — who ask for so-called letter rulings on ethical questions. The commission also wants to keep under wraps instances when its attorneys offered legal advice, though in many cases [the commission's lawyer] simply stopped the recording during those discussions."
How proceedings that take place almost entirely behind closed doors can enhance public confidence in legislative ethics is a problem that the commission hasn't offered an answer to. The fear, of course, is that secret meetings could be used to hide corruption or political bias. The commission does have good company. The vast majority of judicial complaints, for example, are also handled privately.