Taxpayers across the country should thank Colorado State Representative Cindy Acree for her persistence and determination to hold Colorado’s Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) accountable. At the end of last week, she went public with her demand for a full blown audit, including performance and financial, of the “off-budget” agency that has been awash in federal stimulus money over the last three years.
The questionable spending certainly is the big story, so big in fact that Rep Acree has asked Colorado’s congressional delegation to launch a federal investigation because much of the agency’s money is federal. We documented that spending in our report titled “Governor’s Energy Office Needs a Dose of Sunshine.”
The secondary story is the GEO’s arrogance and crony philanthropy.
More than a year ago, Rep Acree began asking the GEO for financial information that is public record. Unwilling to give an elected state legislator the information, Rep. Acree had to submit a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request. She ended up with hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of indecipherable lines of individual expenditures, which were not what she asked for but all the GEO would supply. Remember, this is an elected official. If she has this much difficulty getting the information, imagine how the GEO would treat the average taxpayer?
Without the time and manpower to make sense of the information, Rep Acree contacted the Independence Institute to see if we could provide another set of eyes to examine the information. It was not a task for the faint of heart as intern Kyle Huwa explained the methodology of our research in his paper:
The Independence Institute acquired the expenditures of the Governor’s Energy Office from August 2006 to November 2010 and sorted them in a two-inch binder. Just the data starting from January 2008 contained more than 18,000 individual entries on 292 pages. Because the GEO produced the data in hard copy form and with no categorizations based on expenditure purpose, the researcher had to scan all 292 pages, convert them to text, and then double-check every amount for accuracy (the text conversion was not always accurate). Due to the sheer quantity of the data, there may be minor textual errors in the online database, but all of the dollar amounts have been manually checked. The researcher then marked a category for each expenditure and wrote a computer program to process all 18,000 lines and place them into created categories.
Six months after getting the information from Rep. Acree and hundreds of man hours later, we finished our report. A few of the questionable expenditures we found:
- Expenditures that could not be identified and GEO did not clarify: $9,021,060.23
- Expenditures on cell phones: $51,629.22
- Expenditures on travel: $455,656.06
Since then we have found more questionable spending including a six figure donation to the Denver Zoo so it can be the “greenest zoo” in the country and payments to lobbyists. At the end of our report, we recommend a full audit of the GEO.
CBS Denver Channel 4 broke the story about Rep Acree’s call for a full audit. Reporter Shaun Boyd also contacted former head of the GEO Tom Plant regarding Rep. Acree’s investigation and request for an audit. His response reflects the arrogance of an agency that is not accustom to answering questions. He told CBS 4 that the GEO’s budget is complicated with funding from several sources so it would be “difficult for an outsider” to understand.
Channel 4 tried to reach former Governor Bill Ritter for his response, since this spending occurred during his administration. He was unavailable.
What Plant should be answering is why a sitting lawmaker would have to submit a CORA request just to get basic financial information, and why under his watch the GEO spent more than $9 million (over 7,000 individual line item expenditures) with no vendor information and sometimes no description or just an indecipherable alpha-numeric code.
Also, under Plant’s tenure, the GEO appears guilty of crony philanthropy as reported in our paper:
Also notable is the total of $77,434.05 paid to the Boulder Energy Conservation Center (BECC), a non-profit for which former GEO Director Tom Plant served as executive director when he was in the Colorado state legislature. BECC since has changed its name to the Center for Resource Conservation (CRC). Other GEO funds have been directed to organizations to which CRC board members have had connections. Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, where CRC Vice President Mark Ruzzin once worked, received $222,162.29 from the GEO. Another $22,000 went to the Colorado Brownfields Foundation, on which CRC Secretary Polly Jessen once served.
This is just one energy office in one state, 49 more states and all U.S. territories to go. Taxpayers need a few more elected officials like Rep. Acree to shine a light on how billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent in energy offices through the country.