Nov 5, 2021 - News

Bombshell report shows Colorado Gov. Jared Polis avoided paying taxes

Gov. Jared Polis in March 2020. Photo: Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Colorado's Democratic Gov. Jared Polis is under fire after a new trove of documents revealed he used loopholes to avoid paying federal income taxes for years.

Driving the news: A ProPublica report published Thursday found Polis, a tech entrepreneur and former congressman, used donations and financial arrangements to get out of paying federal income taxes in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Of note: His wealth reached an estimated $306 million in 2017, and he was ranked the third-wealthiest member of the U.S. House.

  • From 2010 to 2018, Polis' tax rate was just 8.2% even though his income averaged $1.5 million during that period. The rate is far below the 19% level owed by an average worker, the investigative news outlet wrote.
  • He also did not pay federal income taxes between 2001 and 2005 — a disclosure that first came to light during his 2008 run for Congress.

Why it matters: The revelation offers a glimpse into the governor's finances, which he refused to provide to voters in the 2018 campaign, when he pumped $23 million from his own pocket into the race.

It also adds context to the governor's policy approach to taxes, which is often at odds with that of his party.

  • The Democrat said this year he wants to abolish the state income tax in favor of one on carbon pollution.

Details: Polis managed to lower his tax rate through legal means — largely philanthropic donations that eliminated half his income tax liability.

  • He donated to his own charity, the Jared Polis Foundation, which spent $2 million on mailers promoting his work on the state's education board.
  • Another strategy he deployed to avoid tax exposure was investing in companies that produce little income even as their valuation increases.

To shelter his income from taxes, Polis also used a family business, Jovian Holdings, the report found. That company's board includes family members as its directors and his friend Art Laffer, a conservative economist.

What he's saying: Facing questions Thursday, Polis told Colorado Public Radio he paid all that is required by law and noted he agrees the tax system favors the wealthy and corporations.

  • He rejected the idea that he used his foundation to promote his political ambitions, calling it "a very cynical view."

The other side: ProPublica's report drew criticism from across the political spectrum.

  • "This is a shocking investigation into Jared Polis' real background. No wonder he has worked so hard to hide these facts from Colorado voters," state GOP chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown said in a statement.

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