A story from the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins today documents a considerable break with the longstanding practice of Colorado gubernatorial candidates releasing their tax returns for public scrutiny:
“I don’t think it’s appropriate. I don’t think it’s relevant,” said Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, when asked if she would release the past three years of her tax filings for public view. “I don’t know what relevance it is in a gubernatorial election,” she said.
Before becoming the state’s second-in-command, Lynne, a first-time candidate, was an executive vice president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. She has put $100,000 of her own money into her campaign so far, and was the only candidate who flat-out said she wouldn’t release her taxes when asked by The Colorado Independent.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez apparently agrees:
Republican Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker, said he would have to think about whether to allow a reporter to inspect his tax returns, but also expressed skepticism. “For what purpose?” he asked. “I can understand at the presidential level, but we’re talking about the state level here. So I don’t really know that that really impacts the decisions of voters.”
And finally, GOP fruntrunner Walker Stapleton gets so dodgy about it it’s almost comical:
“I’m happy to release my tax returns but not from what’s in the blind trust because that violates the spirit of setting up the trust to begin with,” Stapleton said in an interview. A Stapleton spokesman jumped in to add that the campaign isn’t prepared to say what it would and wouldn’t release. Stapleton, who has trained most of his fire on Polis throughout his campaign, said he is not interested in seeing what’s in his rival’s returns. Responding to the idea that releasing tax returns before an election could illuminate something important, Stapleton said, “I think that’s stupid and dumb and the only people that care about that are political enemies trying to savage somebody for something.”
Beyond his state income from the treasurer’s office, Stapleton said he has “a lot” of passive business investments that are managed by others. “Do I have alternate sources of income? You bet I do,” he said. [Pols emphasis]
The rest of the major gubernatorial candidates in both parties were generally in support of releasing their tax returns. Jared Polis, the wealthiest candidate in the race by far, says he’ll be happy to do so as long as the other candidates in the Democratic primary do as well. That’s because for many years, the release of tax returns by gubernatorial candidates has been a routine practice. In 2014, both Gov. John Hickenlooper and his opponent Bob Beauprez released theirs. The last time we can remember a gubernatorial candidate refusing to release their tax returns was back in 2010, when ill-fated GOP candidate Scott McInnis earned the wrath of the Denver Post:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis has refused to release his tax returns, a position that breaks from routine campaign practices in Colorado and nationally…
Media outlets routinely request tax returns from candidates because they reveal more than mere income: They show sources of income and potential conflicts of interest, charitable giving, the use of tax shelters, how candidates manage their own money and how their tax rates compare with the average taxpayer’s.
Open-government advocates say it’s especially important that wealthy candidates, who usually have a multitude of investments, be forthcoming with their taxes. [Pols emphasis]
Make no mistake, the refusal of these candidates to participate in a longstanding and uncontroversial disclosure is a very serious breach of trust and longstanding tradition. In the case of Donna Lynne, this nonchalant dismissal of the need to disclose basic financial information should be disqualifying–though with her campaign stuck in single digits anyway, it’s doubtful that will ever be put to the test.
Walker Stapleton, on the other hand, is the Republican frontrunner. It’s been no secret since Stapleton’s election that his financial footprint is extensive and poorly documented. Being shady about one’s finances might slip under the radar in lower elected offices, but a candidate for the state’s highest office has an obligation to demonstrate that he has no disqualifying conflicts of interest.
Instead, Walker Stapleton brags about his undisclosed “alternate sources of income.”
That is not cool. We can only hope there is some outrage to spare for it.