U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said Tuesday that he’ll be glad to discuss releasing more of his tax returns once Walker Stapleton, his Republican opponent in the Colorado gubernatorial race, matches the seven years of tax records that Polis released a decade ago when he first ran for Congress.
“I’ve released seven years of taxes, and we’re waiting for Walker Stapleton to release any of his taxes,” Polis told reporters after touring a union training facility in Denver. “I hope he releases his — and his trust taxes — and, of course, after he releases some, we’ll be happy to talk about releasing more. But before I ran for office, I was proud to release seven years of taxes.
“After Walker Stapleton releases seven years (of his tax returns), I’m happy to talk about releasing more.”
A spokesman for the Stapleton campaign wouldn’t say Tuesday night whether the candidate plans to release any of his tax returns, but Stapleton previously characterized calls to release the documents “stupid and dumb,” adding that the only people who want to see them are “political enemies trying to savage somebody for something.”
Said Jerrod Dobkin, Stapleton’s communications director: “When Jared Polis was first elected, his net worth was $160 million. And after serving a decade in Congress, his net worth is now estimated to be $312 million. It’s up to Jared Polis and Jared Polis alone to explain why he didn’t pay taxes for years.”
Polis, serving his fifth term representing the 2nd Congressional District, and Stapleton, elected eight years ago as state treasurer, have been filing financial disclosure forms for years, but neither has made his tax returns available in recent years. Both are wealthy and have poured big bucks into their campaigns — more than $18 million so far for Polis and about $1 million for Stapleton.
The candidates’ tax records have been in the spotlight since late last week, when the Republican Governors Association began airing an ad that said Polis, who made a fortune launching companies during the dot-com boom, “didn’t pay income taxes, but he wants to raise yours.”
Polis fired back the next day with an ad rejecting the attack and turned his fire on Stapleton. An attorney for his campaign also asked TV stations to stop airing the ad, which he termed “intentionally false and misleading.”
But an RGA spokesman said the organization stands by its ad.
“Jared Polis doesn’t want to pay his fair share in taxes, but wants to force Colorado families to shoulder a higher tax burden,” RGA’s Jon Thompson said in a statement. “Jared Polis was caught not paying federal income taxes for five years, was caught using onshore and offshore Cayman Island accounts to avoid paying taxes, and was caught stating that all of it was ‘completely appropriate.’ ”
The attack on Polis’ taxes first surfaced in 2008, when Polis was locked in a close primary for the Boulder-based congressional seat.
His campaign disputes each of those contentions.
One of the richest members of Congress — the Center for Responsive Politics ranked him as second richest in the House, with an estimated 2015 net worth exceeding $300 million — Polis paid more than $18.4 million in income taxes during the seven years before he was elected, according to returns he made available a decade ago.
When he sold ProFlowers.com, a company he’d founded in 2006, for example, he netted $116 million and wound up paying more than $13 million in taxes that year alone.
But Polis reported a net loss in income for the four years leading up to that year, when he said he was nurturing businesses he’d started, so he didn’t owe any federal income taxes in those years.
As for any “offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes,” a Polis campaign spokeswoman pointed to reporting from 2008, when Polis acknowledged holdings in a company that also maintained a fund for international investors in the Cayman Islands but said he never had any money in that fund.
The RGA ad ends with a video clip of Polis saying, “I think that’s completely appropriate,” but it omits what he was talking about when he was questioned about his taxes during a primary debate.
Here’s the full quote: “When you don’t make money, you can’t pay taxes. And since I’ve been in public service, my expenses have been greater than my income, and that’s simply the fact, and I think that’s completely appropriate.”
Polis was elected to a six-year term on the State Board of Education in 2000.
Asked by reporters Tuesday whether he has paid federal income taxes every year since he was elected to Congress, Polis deflected.
“No one has ever accused me of not paying my taxes. I’ve paid every penny I’ve owed in taxes,” he said.
Pressed whether that included income taxes, Polis repeated, “I’ve paid every penny that I’ve owed in taxes.”