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Activist Orgs Continue to Fund Top Post in Ritter Administration

Three years into his tenure, Gov. Bill Ritter should write a guidebook on how to buy a top post in his administration. Think it couldn't happen? It already is in the Governor's Energy Office.
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Three years into his tenure, Gov. Bill Ritter should write a guidebook on how to buy a top post in his administration.

The steps are rather simple: make lots of money, donate it to a nonprofit foundation and then have the foundation write a massive check to create a new position, thus ensuring speed-dial access to the governor.

Think it couldn't happen? It already is in the Governor's Energy Office, where a top-ranking energy official's position is funded through private dollars. And even in the aftermath of intense public scrutiny during recent weeks, Ritter still doesn't see a problem.

Serving as the state's first climate change coordinator is former Colorado House Speaker Alice Madden. As I've discussed on this site previously, while her post is housed out of the GEO, her $80,000 salary is curiously funded through private grants from three organizations, including the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, which proclaims a commitment "to reduc(ing) carbon emissions from the electric and gas utility industry by advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy."

Also chipping in from San Francisco is the $6 billion Hewlett Foundation, an organization devoted to "helping to reduce global poverty, limiting the risk of climate change, improving education for students in California and elsewhere. ... (and) improving reproductive health and rights worldwide."

The third organization to sign off on Madden's checks (and the only one from Colorado) is the Denver Foundation, a respected group that gives more than $5 million annually to various Colorado causes. While less overt in its political agenda than the other two funders, the foundation is far from immune to potential political conflicts of interest.

For instance, Denver Foundation board member Rico Munn recently was appointed by Ritter to serve as the state's higher education chief. Munn has earned a reputation as being non-partisan, professional and innovative. But due to Madden's funding arrangement, he now also holds two positions that could end up compromising his ability to act in the best interest of either.

But Munn's dilemmas are kids' stuff compared to Madden's.

What would happen should she take a position contrary to that held by her funders? Or what should taxpayers believe if she never takes a contrary position -- instead pushing policy proposals in lock step with what her funders desire?

Either way, she can't shake the likelihood of a conflict of interest.

There also are new questions about whether Madden's $3,000 in additional monthly compensation from the liberal Center For American Progress was proper. While this is a lesser issue, it is where the media began and ended its inquiry.

After Madden announced she would sever financial ties with the group, the Denver Post responded with an editorial titled "Right Move By Madden," applauding her for severing a relationship that had "the potential to raise questions about her independence in shaping climate change policy."

But if it was proper for Madden to cut ties with an outside activist organization, isn't it also appropriate that she cut ties with the agenda-driven private organizations funding her powerful government position?

Ritter's defenders may believe that global warming represents a universal concern that should be held above the political fray. But talk to the residents of western Colorado, many of whom are out-of-work energy workers displaced by toxic mix of a faltering economy and anti-energy public policy.

They'll tell you a slightly different story than the one you'll hear from Madden.

Colorado, including its high ranking political positions, should not be for sale to the highest bidder.

Jessica Peck Corry is a Denver attorney and policy analyst with the Independence Institute.

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