Election 2018GovernorNewsTrending

Polis fires back at GOP attack over income taxes, calls on Stapleton to release tax records

Author: Ernest Luning - September 11, 2018 - Updated: September 12, 2018

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado's Democratic nominee for governor, talks with reporter after touring an apprenticeship training facility at the Pipefitters Local 208 union hall on Sept. 11, 2018, in Denver. (Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado’s Democratic nominee for governor, talks with reporter after touring an apprenticeship training facility at the Pipefitters Local 208 union hall on Sept. 11, 2018, in Denver. (Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said Tuesday he’ll be glad to discuss releasing more of his tax returns once Walker Stapleton, his Republican opponent in the Colorado gubernatorial race, matches the seven years of tax records that Polis released a decade ago when he first ran for Congress.

Meanwhile, his campaign is firing back at a political attack ad that it claims makes false accusations about his income tax payments.

“I’ve released seven years of taxes, and we’re waiting for Walker Stapleton to release any of his taxes,” Polis told reporters after touring a union training facility in Denver. “I hope he releases his — and his trust taxes — and, of course, after he releases some, we’ll be happy to talk about releasing more. But before I ran for office, I was proud to release seven years of taxes.

“After Walker Stapleton releases seven years (of his tax returns), I’m happy to talk about releasing more.”

In the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, both major-party candidates — Democrat John Hickenlooper and Republican Bob Beauprez — released several years of tax records.

A spokesman for the Stapleton campaign wouldn’t say Tuesday night whether the candidate plans to release any of his tax returns, but Stapleton previously characterized calls to release the documents as “stupid and dumb,” adding that the only people who want to see them are “political enemies trying to savage somebody for something.”

Said Jerrod Dobkin, Stapleton’s communications director: “When Jared Polis was first elected, his net worth was $160 million. And after serving a decade in Congress, his net worth is now estimated to be $312 million. It’s up to Jared Polis and Jared Polis alone to explain why he didn’t pay taxes for years.”

Dobkin was referring to decade-old reports that from 2001 to 2005, before entering Congress, Polis didn’t pay income taxes because he didn’t owe any, having sustained business losses, as is common among entrepreneurs who profit largely from selling companies.

The attack involving Polis’ taxes first surfaced in 2008 when Polis was locked in a close primary for the Boulder-based congressional seat. Polis at the time explained the tax matter, noting: “In my business career, I only make significant money when I sell a company.”

Polis, serving his fifth term representing the 2nd Congressional District, and Stapleton, elected eight years ago as state treasurer, have been filing financial disclosure forms for years, but neither he nor Stapleton has made his tax returns available in recent years.

Both are wealthy businessmen and have poured big bucks into their gubernatorial campaigns — more than $18 million so far for Polis and around $1 million for Stapleton.

The candidates’ tax records have been in the spotlight since late last week when the Republican Governors Association began airing an ad that claimed Polis, who made a fortune launching companies during the dot-com boom, “didn’t pay income taxes, but he wants to raise yours.”

Polis fired back the next day with an ad rejecting the attack — and turned his fire on Stapleton. The Polis campaign also asked TV stations to stop airing the ad, which his attorney termed “intentionally false and misleading” because it falsely  suggests that Polis improperly evaded paying taxes.

But an RGA spokesman told Colorado Politics the organization stands by its ad.

“Jared Polis doesn’t want to pay his fair share in taxes, but wants to force Colorado families to shoulder a higher tax burden,” the RGA’s Jon Thompson said in a statement. “Jared Polis was caught not paying federal income taxes for five years, was caught using onshore and offshore Cayman Island accounts to avoid paying taxes, and was caught stating that all of it was ‘completely appropriate.’”

The Polis campaign disputes each of the ad’s contentions.

One of the richest members of Congress — the Center for Responsive Politics ranked him as second richest in the House, with an estimated 2015 net worth exceeding $300 million — Polis paid more than $18.4 million in income taxes during the seven years before he was elected, according to returns he made available a decade ago.

When he sold the parent company of ProFlowers.com, an e-commerce floral delivery business he founded, in 2006 Polis netted $116 million and wound up paying more than $13 million in taxes for the year, according to the Daily Camera.

But Polis reported a net loss in income for the four years leading up to that, when he said he was nurturing businesses he’d started — so didn’t owe any federal income taxes in those years.

As for any “offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes,” a Polis campaign spokeswoman pointed to reporting from 2008, when Polis acknowledged holdings in a company that also maintained a fund in the Cayman Islands for international investors, but said he never had any money in the Cayman fund.

The RGA ad ends with a video clip of Polis saying, “I think that’s completely appropriate.” But it omits what he was talking about in a May 30 primary debate when he was questioned about his taxes.

Here’s the full quote: “When you don’t make money, you can’t pay taxes, and since I’ve been in public service, my expenses have been greater than my income, and that’s simply the fact, and I think that’s completely appropriate.”

Polis was elected to a six-year term on the State Board of Education in 2000.

Asked by reporters Tuesday whether he’s paid federal income taxes every year since he was elected to Congress, Polis deflected.

“No one has ever accused me of not paying my taxes. I’ve paid every penny I’ve owed in taxes,” he said.

Pressed whether that included income taxes, Polis repeated, “I’ve paid every penny that I’ve owed in taxes.”

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.