By Arthur Kane | Watchdog.org
Republicans are charging that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is continuing to place conservation easements — a controversial tax break that required Hickenlooper to repay the Internal Revenue Service $52,000 in 2008 — on his Bailey land.
But the Republican Governors Association, which issued a news release with a litany of Hickenlooper’s tax issues (like being late on property tax payments) on Friday, didn’t provide the easement records to Watchdog.org despite repeated requests. The Park County assessor’s office, where Hickenlooper’s Bailey land filings are kept, was closed Friday, according to the website.
Republicans released a webpage with this information:
“Hickenlooper Continues To Receive Conservation Easements,” the release said. “According To County Records For The 2013 And 2014 Tax Year, Hickenlooper Claims A Conservation Easement Credit On His Property.”
However, once an easement is placed on a piece of property to prevent development on the land, it is permanently on that property and should show up on county records every year. The record RGA links to notes a land easement, but does not describe any additional easements or credits that could be written off on Hickenlooper’s taxes.
TAX DODGE: Hickenlooper supports tax increases but won’t release details of his own tax dealings.
Dan Pike, president of the nonprofit Colorado Open Lands, reviewed the RGA link to Park County records at Watchdog.org’s request and said it doesn’t prove Hickenlooper is obtaining new easements.
“This looks to me like this is a statement for 2014 that has a conservation easement on it,” he said. “I don’t think this indicates a new one this year.
“He could have done a subsequent easement on other property, but I have no clue whether he did a new one or not,” he said.
The Hickenlooper campaign refused to provide his tax returns to Watchdog.org last month. When asked about it at an unrelated event Hickenlooper said: “I think what we’ve done is release them to every legitimate media operation that we know of.”
When Watchdog.org tried to get the tax returns from Hickenlooper’s campaign office in October, Hickenlooper campaign spokesman Eddie Stern called police.
However, even the Hickenlooper-branded “legitimate” media did not get detailed records from the campaign. Those records would be necessary to determine whether the wealthy governor, who has supported most Colorado tax increase votes, is still using controversial conservation easements to lower his own taxes.
A Denver Post story Friday quotes a spokesman saying Hickenlooper won’t name charities because he doesn’t want to embroil them in politics. That is the same thing Hickenlooper said when this reporter, working for another media organization, uncovered that more than $1 million in in-kind tax write-offs were for a conservation easement on land.
Hickenlooper acquired the property for about $1,400 an acre, but wrote it off at more than $6,000 an acre starting two years after he obtained the land. When he was asked whether the IRS had a problem with that valuation, Hickenlooper produced a document in 2010 that showed he had to pay more than $52,000 to the IRS over the easement.
The Post article published Friday surprisingly doesn’t mention Hickenlooper’s tax controversy after the governor refused to discuss his charitable contributions, but Post politics editor Chuck Plunkett said that is because the story focuses on Hickenlooper’s and Republican challenger Bob Beauprez’s tax returns since 2010.
“We wrote about it (the conservation easement) in 2010,” he told Watchdog.org. “I wanted to cover what happened since we last wrote about it.”
The Post handed the returns for both candidates — Beauprez provided detailed returns to “legitimate” media and Watchdog.org — over to an accountant who analyzed the records.
Post reporter Joey Bunch confirmed even so-called “legitimate” media received only summaries of Hickenlooper’s returns, and he did not remember seeing any large in-kind contributions, which was the tip off in 2010 that Hickenlooper was writing off the conservation easement.
The accountant could not be reached for comment. Stern, as was his previous practice, did not return a call seeking comment.