By Arthur Kane | Watchdog.org
When you’re a millionaire, even giving to charity apparently is complicated.
Watchdog.org has confirmed from two media outlets in Denver that Gov. John Hickenlooper did not provide his charitable contributions when releasing his tax returns to some Denver media. Representatives of one outlet said he didn’t provide the contributions until asked and a second said he never provides the information.
That is significant because four years ago, this reporter, working for another news outlet, uncovered that the Internal Revenue Service demanded Hickenlooper pay more than $52,000 when IRS officials determined the wealthy politician did not appropriately value conservation easements that he wrote off as charitable deductions.
HIDDEN TAXES: Gov. Hickenlooper has come out repeatedly for tax increases but is less forthcoming about his tax dealings.
Hickenlooper’s Republican opponent Bob Beauprez, also quite wealthy, had some interesting charitable write-offs on the tax returns he released to Denver media, including Watchdog.org.
Hickenlooper refused to provide Watchdog.org with his tax returns or answer any questions about his current or previous charitable contributions.
His campaign spokesman, Eddie Stern, after more than a month of not returning calls or emails, called police when Watchdog.org showed up at Hickenlooper campaign headquarters to ask for the returns.
Colorado Union of Taxpayers president Gregory Golyansky said it is hypocritical for Hickenlooper to improperly use charitable contributions to lower his taxes since he has supported every Denver and state tax increase initiative that has come before voters in the past decade.
“It’s a double standard,” Golyansky said. “Other political leaders routinely release tax statements. The fact of the matter is he clearly is too much a political animal and too little of a governor. That doesn’t benefit the citizens of the state.”
But Hickenlooper said he released the returns to the media outlets that he wanted to have them.
“I think what we’ve done is release them to every legitimate media operation that we know of,” he told Watchdog.org as he walked to an unrelated news conference.
However, in 2010, he also released it to “legitimate media operations” but nearly all didn’t pursue or report on the more than $1 million in in-kind charitable deduction on his returns. This reporter dug up the facts behind the deduction, but Hickenlooper refused to address whether that played any role in refusing to provide the returns to Watchdog.org this year.
In 2000, Hickenlooper and a partner obtained a large piece of land near Bailey in a land swap with the federal government, which estimated the worth of the Bailey land at an average of about $1,400 an acre. Starting two years later, Hickenlooper valued the same land at more than $6,000 an acre for a series of conservation easements, which he then wrote off on his taxes. In 2008, the IRS questioned the land valuation and demanded more than $52,000, which Hickenlooper said he paid. He also said at the time there was no penalty, and he believed the land was valued fairly.
“This letter is to inform you that (the IRS) has considered the federal tax implications of a group of returns reflecting charitable contributions of conservation easements in the state of Colorado,” the IRS letter said. “Because your conservation easement is within that group, the IRS proposes to resolve the issue(s) related to the conservation easement contribution claimed on your federal income taxes for 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 … (the IRS) has concluded the settlement proposed is an equitable resolution of the issue(s).”
Golyansky questioned why Hickenlooper wouldn’t turn over the charitable contributions to Watchdog.org after the controversy during his first gubernatorial campaign.
“You scared him,” he said of the 2010 tax story.
Hickenlooper would not address if there were any questionable dealings in his current tax returns or if he’s withholding the returns from Watchdog.org because of the previous stories.
“Last time you gave them to me, we found out you weren’t paying all your taxes. Is that a reason for it?” Watchdog.org asked the governor at an unrelated news conference.
“This is for all the legitimate media outlets,” he said.
Hickenlooper walked away from the news conference flanked by his taxpayer-funded media adviser, Maximillian Potter, who chanted “You’re interested in attacks not facts.” Taxpayers paid Potter $130,000 last year to answer questions about state issues.
Beauprez also had some unusual charitable contributions in 2007 when he sold his bank, taking in nearly $9.3 million, his tax returns show.
OPEN BOOK: Former Congressman Bob Beauprez released his tax returns to Watchdog.org unlike his opponent.
Beauprez first put $600,000 into a charity he set up called the Rocky Mountain Community Foundation. The foundation closed the following year and $497,000 of the money was donated to the Charitable Fund, RMCF’s nonprofit tax return shows. The rest of the foundation’s $70,000 money was divided between Catholic organizations, an education choice and a right-to-life group, the return says.
Beauprez spokesman Allen Fuller said Beauprez’s timing was bad in that he opened the charity during the economic crash, and he decided to close it after 2008 and concentrate on his ranch.
“The recession was in full force and people weren’t scrambling to find a place to give money,” said Fuller, adding that donors initially approached Beauprez to start an alternative to the Denver Foundation because they felt it was giving to liberal causes.
Beauprez chose the Charitable Fund for most of the RMCF money because the director was a friend, Fuller said.
Beauprez’s tax records show other than the year he sold his bank, Beauprez reported his gross income as between $183,000 and $660,000, mostly from investments and rental property. In most years, he gave between $12,000 and $47,000 to charity, which was mostly in the form of cash gifts.
In 2007, he gave away nearly $750,000, including setting up the RMCF. He also gave $50,000 to the Tennyson Center for Children, which helps abused children, and $40,000 for Colorado Uplift, which works with urban youth, his returns show. The rest went to Catholic organizations, the Boy Scouts, YMCA, Habitat for Humanity and an adoption nonprofit and a cancer charity.
Fuller said the IRS has never demanded that Beauprez pay any money back because he inappropriately included something on his taxes.
IRS records are private and the only reason the public learned that Hickenlooper paid back the $52,000 is he confirmed the IRS action and provided documentation when this reporter figured out the large disparity in the valuation of his land, which was in public records.
Golyansky said in 2010 Hickenlooper hoped a mostly friendly media wouldn’t pursue the questionable land deal and conservation easement, and he provided the returns this year only to media organizations he believed would not dig into his business and tax dealings.
“Most of the media is friendly to Hickenlooper,” he said. “They will not publish anything that’s embarrassing, and he can cover himself saying he released” the tax returns.