By Dan Njegomir | Colorado Watchdog
Could Coloradans be facing another attempt at a statewide tax hike?
That’s the question the Colorado News Agency raised a couple of months ago when it reported on a series of TV ads that hit the airwaves on Denver-area stations over the summer.
The commercials, bemoaning the level of funding for Colorado public schools, and a companion website anchoring a new campaign called Colorado Commits, had the look and feel of a political pitch. Except, there was no actual reference to any ballot proposal.
Even the website’s “Make The Pledge” button stopped short of seeking donations or asking voters to sign a ballot petition. It simply asked for contact info from site visitors who agreed to, “support… Increased funding for K-12 to make Colorado competitive with our neighboring states.”
So, Colorado News Agency reporter Sunana Batra, who covers the State Capitol, tracked down the campaign’s backers and tried to get them to tie up the obvious loose end.
Was the vague campaign in fact the soft launch of a new bid to ask voters to pay more taxes after they had shot down a proposed sales-and-income-tax hike by a 2-to-1 margin on last November’s ballot?
As it turned out, no one at the Denver civic group Colorado Forum — whose spinoff, the Colorado Forum Fund, had registered the campaign last June — responded to Batra’s repeated calls and emails seeking comment. Nor was there any reply from the Denver-based political consulting firm running the effort, OnSight Public Affairs.
Colorado Watchdog gave Colorado Forum a call this week to see if the past two months had ushered in a new phase for Colorado Commits. Might its organizers now be willing to spill the beans about the rest of their plans? A message left Tuesday for Colorado Forum Director Gail Klapper got no response. However, a follow-up call to the group early Wednesday afternoon hit pay dirt. Sort of.
Colorado Forum: “Hello? This is Gail.”
Colorado Watchdog: “Gail Klapper?”
Colorado Forum: ‘’Yes.”
Colorado Watchdog: “Oh. I guess I didn’t expect you to pick up your own phone… I left you a message yesterday. I just wanted to catch up with you about your Colorado Commits campaign. I guess that’s what I’d call it — a campaign. Is it a campaign?”
Colorado Forum: “(Long pause) I’m just rushing out the door, and my assistant isn’t here. That’s why I answered the phone.”
Colorado Watchdog: “Can I call you this afternoon?”
Colorado Forum: “My meeting is all afternoon.”
Colorado Watchdog: “Can I call you tomorrow?
Colorado Forum: “I’ll be happy to talk about it (pause) sometime. This week I’m really slammed.”
Colorado Watchdog: “So, I’ll call you tomorrow?”
Colorado Forum: Click.
Looks like Colorado voters will just have to wait to learn the rest of the story. Meanwhile, who’s funding the effort? As Batra also reported:
The Colorado Forum Fund received a $100,000 contribution last January from former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s leftover campaign cash after he decided not to stand for re-election. Klapper told the Denver Post at the time that the fund is a “fiscal-planning project” focused on state education issues. In 2011, the fund received $50,000 from the Rose Community Foundation, according to Rose’s 2011 Annual Report, “to support efforts to reform Colorado’s fiscal policies.”
That’s a tidy sum as seed money goes, assuming the fund is using some or all of that cash for its Colorado Commits campaign. How much of it is going to OnSight—whose senior staff includes established Democratic Party operatives and, perhaps not coincidentally, a former Ritter administration spokesman? And how much more will be raised for this campaign that’s not exactly a campaign? Apparently, the answers to those and other questions will come in time. Maybe a long time.
Contact Dan Njegomir at firstname.lastname@example.org