Institute funding queried

Supporters of Referendum C charged Monday that the nonprofit Independence Institute has spent around $400,000 on radio ads attacking the November ballot measure.

Katy Atkinson, spokeswoman for “Vote Yes on C&D,” called on the metro area-based think tank to reveal its donors.

“This is not money the Independence Institute just happened to have on hand,” Atkinson said. “It’s money raised to fight Referendum C, and the voters have a right to know where that money came from.”

She said various radio stations provided information about how much advertising the Independence Institute has bought.

But Jon Caldara, Independence Institute president, disputed the $400,000 figure, saying he doesn’t believe it is that high. He was on vacation Monday and unable to track down the exact cost of the institute’s ads.

Atkinson stood by her charge, and said the cost of the ads nearly rivals the Independence Institute’s yearly budget. The latest federal tax records available show that in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2003, the Independence Institute collected $602,914 and spent $495,162.

“Again I ask, where did they get the money for their radio ads?” Atkinson said, adding she believes the donors are from out of state.

“They can keep asking, ‘Where’s the money coming from?’ ” Caldara said in a falsetto voice.

“The answer is our donors – our donors whom we have kept private for 21 years and will continue to keep private.”

He said as a nonpartisan, nonprofit group, the institute does not have to reveal its contributors and can run “educational” ads on Referendum C.

Atkinson and others argue that the ads are not educational but misleading – and partisan – and therefore the donors should be made public.

Ref C supporters earlier filed a complaint against the Independence Institute with the secretary of state.

On Monday, they filed two more election-violation complaints, this time against Colorado FreedomWorks and Colorado Club for Growth. The groups, which are affiliated with national conservative organizations, oppose Referendum C.

The organizations maintain they have done nothing wrong, but Ref C supporters say they failed to disclose donors or expenses.

Ref C would allow the state for the next five years to keep surplus tax money that otherwise would have to be refunded to taxpayers. A companion measure, Referendum D, would allow the state to borrow against the estimated $3.7 billion to start construction on transportation and other projects.

Caldara is leading the opposition to Ref C, saying it is a tax increase that will bloat state government. or 303-892-5327