Media catches on to ‘clean government’ campaign’s transparency woes

Backers of an initiative campaign hyping the values of “clean government” are funding their efforts with anonymous cash, and the mainstream media is starting to catch on.

As was reported by The Colorado Independent last week, proponents of an anti-union amendment allegedly focusing on government transparency have funded their campaign with over a million dollars in anonymous cash, making it impossible to know who is supporting the initiative and who paid to put it on the state ballot.

A Web site has been launched supporting Amendment 54, a measure backed by the [conservative Independence Institute] that would prohibit both unions and sole-source contractors with the state unions from giving to political campaigns, essentially snuffing out the traditionally pro-Democratic contributions that are given by labor.

Clean Government Colorado, the political committee supporting Amendment 54, has raised more than $1.5 million dollars. At least 90 percent of that money has come from the nonprofit organization Colorado At Its Best, created by Institute fellow Dennis Pohill in 2001 and directed by New York Libertarian activist and real-estate developer Howard Rich, according to documents filed with the secretary of state’s office.

Because Colorado At Its Best is a nonprofit, it is not required to release the names of its contributors, meaning that the “clean” campaign has been funded primarily from donors who are anonymous.

Now it would appear that the mainstream media is starting to catch on to the transparency questions, with a recent article from The Rocky Mountain News pointing out the same facts:

Clean Government Colorado has raised about $1.5 million to promote Amendment 54. All of that money has come through Colorado At Its Best, a nonprofit founded by Independence Institute fellow Dennis Polhill.

But where the nonprofit’s money is coming from isn’t clear. Polhill, who helped pass amendments limiting terms for elected officials, declined to identify donors to the group.

Polhill said he was willing to accept criticism for the failure to disclose financial sources because he said his donors feared retribution.

There’s no sign that the anonymous cash flow will be stopping anytime soon either.

Most recent campaign finance disclosures from Clean Government Colorado show that the nonprofit Colorado At Its Best has already contributed an additional $200,000.

The nonprofit has given a total of $1.7 million in anonymous dough to the committee, according to the finance documents.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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