Truth Check: Hickenlooper’s taxes targeted in new ad

Truth Check

DENVER (KDVR) — The Truth Check team continues to look at the candidates and their commercials in the 2020 election. Every advertisement that claims something — we will research and determine if the ads are actually telling the truth.

You can watch our previous “Truth Check” segments here and you can read our criteria and standards here.

The latest Truth Check involves the highly competitive race for one of Colorado’s United States Senate seats. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper is challenging incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner, who’s defending the seat for the first time.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a new attack ad Friday that targeted Hickenlooper’s ethics violations, taxes and more.

CLAIM #1 

John Hickenlooper broke ethics laws

Exact quote in ad: “We know slick, shady John Hickenlooper broke ethics laws.”

Verdict: True

Reason: Technically, John Hickenlooper violated the state’s constitutional ban on public officials receiving gifts. He was fined $2,750 for taking a private plane to Connecticut and a Maserati limo ride in Italy. Earlier this summer, Hickenlooper said this about the violations: “In both cases, any mistake was inadvertent and unintentional. I’m saying the commission found we were in violation of the rules in these two cases out of 97 allegations.” The Public Trust Institute, a conservative group, made those allegations in 2018. The ethics commission ruled an overwhelming majority of the complaints did not violate the law.

CLAIM #2

Hickenlooper took millions of dollars in secretive donations

Exact quote in ad: “Took millions in secretive donations.”

Verdict: Not exactly

Reason: The donations the NRSC referenced didn’t go to Hickenlooper himself or his campaign, but to the governor’s office while he led the state. They’re not necessarily secretive, but they can be difficult to find on the state’s Transparency Online Project. The donations were often for public-private partnerships, which raised questions. The state would sometimes list the companies and non-profits that donated as sponsors in news releases, including one for a children’s book giveaway and another for Pedal the Plains.

CLAIM #3

Hickenlooper had to pay more than $50,000 in back taxes to the IRS

Exact quote in ad: “The IRS caught Hickenlooper red-handed in a complex scheme to dodge taxes. Shady John had to pay over $50,000 in back taxes.”

Verdict: Not exactly

Reason: It is true that in 2008, Hickenlooper paid the Internal Revenue Service $52,486, but it wasn’t necessarily for back taxes. The Denver Post described it as a settlement and the Associated Press called it an adjustment. It’s all about a few hundred acres of property that Hickenlooper owns in Park County. Starting in 2002, he put easements on the land to prevent development. He donated those easements to The Nature Conservancy. Hickenlooper was legally allowed to write-off the value of the easements on his taxes, which he did for more than $1.1 million. Then in 2007, the IRS got involved and questioned Hickenlooper’s land valuation. The AP and Denver Post reported the agency offered the $52,486 as a way to solve the issue. Hickenlooper didn’t dispute the issue and paid the money.

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