Fact or Fiction: GOP group says Jared Polis didn't pay taxes – but he didn't owe any

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DENVER – The Colorado governor’s race is getting nastier, with a Republican group’s TV ad claiming Democratic candidate Jared Polis “got caught” not paying taxes and that he used an offshore Cayman Islands account to “avoid paying taxes.”

The Republican Governors Association-sponsored ad is recycling old accusations from Polis’ first run for Congress in 2008. The Denver Post and Boulder Daily Camera reported at the time that Polis owed no income taxes for five years in the early 2000s because the tech entrepreneur was experiencing big losses from his start-up company investments.

A Polis campaign attorney says the ad, which begins with the words “multimillionaire Jared Polis got caught,” falsely insinuates the congressman broke the law.

“The ad intentionally, maliciously, and falsely communicates that Mr. Polis committed tax evasion,” attorney Michael L. Bender said in a letter to Denver7 and other TV stations asking them to stop airing the ad. “Jared Polis has paid all taxes he has legally owed.” 

The Republican Governors Association stands behind its ad.

When the ad was unveiled, RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said, “Jared Polis doesn’t want to pay his fair share in taxes,” while at the same time the congressman is pushing to repeal President Trump’s signature tax-cut law. This would “force Colorado families to shoulder a higher tax burden,” Thompson added.

“Colorado voters deserve to know that while Jared Polis now wants raise their taxes, he took steps to avoid paying taxes,” Thompson said in a recent email to Denver7.

The RGA ad takes sound bites from a May 30 primary debate aired by Colorado Public Television.  

During the debate, the moderator, CBS4 political reporter Shaun Boyd, notes that Polis has introduced legislation to repeal the Republican tax reform law, “which you say is a giveaway to special interests and corporate welfare.”

The ad includes Boyd telling Polis, “For five years, though, before you entered Congress, you paid no federal income tax, and have used onshore and offshore Cayman Island accounts to avoid paying taxes.”

The ad uses a brief response from Polis: “I think that’s, you know, completely appropriate.”

The ad narrator adds, “Jared Polis didn’t pay income taxes, but he wants to raise yours.” 

But the ad leaves out Polis’ full explanation for why he wasn’t paying taxes in the early 2000s.

“Well first of all, I paid a heck of a lot of taxes in the years I made money,” Polis said in the debate. “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, you know, completely appropriate.”

The bottom line: Polis didn’t pay federal income taxes from 2001 through 2005 because he was reporting a net loss of income – he owed no taxes. That’s what the Denver Post and Boulder Daily Camera reported after reviewing seven years of tax returns that Polis released in 2008.

“Actually, I’ve examined Polis’ tax returns for the years in question and there was never a time when he didn’t ‘pay taxes,’” Bob Ewegen, then the Denver Post’s deputy editorial page editor, wrote in 2008. “He paid property taxes, payroll taxes, you-name-it taxes. There were just a few years when he didn’t pay income taxes, for the simple reason that he had no net income. Like all good entrepreneurs, Polis is willing to accept sizeable losses in starting up a new enterprise. When his companies become profitable, he pays beaucoup taxes and has anted up millions in income and capital gains taxes.”

The Daily Camera reported in 2008, “Polis' returns show five years -- from 2001 to 2005 -- during which the Internet entrepreneur paid no taxes. He showed a net loss of income for four of those five years.”

But when Polis made money, he paid sizable taxes. The Camera reported: “The returns also show a couple of years when he posted a total of more than $120 million in adjusted gross income and more than $18.4 million in taxes paid.”

As for the ad’s claim that Polis wants to raise taxes on Coloradans, Polis argued during the debate that the GOP tax-cut law “actually raised taxes for many Colorado families. You know, for everyone you talk to that it might save a little, there’s another family that it costs more, whether it’s not being able to write off losses from floods or from fires, or whether it’s the fact that they had deductions that they no longer [can use].”

Polis added that his bill to repeal the GOP tax law and what he calls its $1.9 trillion in “corporate and special interest giveaways,” would redirect those funds to cancel out nearly $1.4 trillion in college student loan debt nationwide. 

“That would help more Coloradans” than the Republican tax bill, Polis argued.

More importantly, under Colorado law, a governor can’t raise taxes – Colorado voters must approve all tax increases.

What about the ad’s claim that Polis used an offshore account in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes?

Polis was once an investor in a United States-based fund managed by Jove Partners LP. Jove Partners also managed a Cayman Islands fund called Jove Capitol Offshore Fund Ltd.

In his letter to Denver7, Bender, the Polis campaign attorney, wrote the Cayman Islands fund “contained none of Mr. Polis’s own money. The ad fails to explain how Mr. Polis supposedly ‘used Cayman Island accounts to avoid paying taxes’ for good reason -- he did not.”

Denver7 Investigates checked Polis’ congressional financial disclosure statements and found no record of Polis investing in Jove Capitol Offshore Fund in the Cayman Islands.

Our Findings

The Republican Governors Association ad said Jared Polis “Didn’t pay income taxes.”

Yes, the tech entrepreneur didn’t pay federal income taxes for five years in the early 2000s when he had a net loss of income as he poured money into start-up companies that weren’t turning a profit. That means he didn’t owe taxes. The RGA skipped over that fact – omitting Polis’ explanation at the debate -- in their ad.

We rate this claim Misleading. 

The RGA’s ad also said Polis used “offshore Cayman Island accounts to avoid paying taxes.” But Polis’ attorney says he never invested in the Cayman Islands account, and his congressional financial disclosure statements have no record of him doing so. 

We rate this claim Fiction.   

The RGA’s ad also says Polis “wants to raise yours” [taxes]. It cites as proof Polis’ federal bill to repeal the $1.9 trillion Republican tax-cut law. But the ad leaves out that Polis’ bill would redirect nearly $1.4 trillion of that money to wipe out college student loan debt nationwide. RGA also ignores the fact that, under Colorado law, a governor can’t raise taxes – Colorado voters must approve all tax increases.

We rate this claim Misleading.

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