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Politics and Government

Jared Polis demanded Donald Trump release his tax returns, but now he won’t do the same (and neither will Walker Stapleton)

Tax records in the governor's race are in the spotlight after ad attacking Polis's tax record airs

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Jared Polis demanded that Donald Trump release his tax returns and helped lead an attempt in Congress to force the Republican candidate to do so.

Now, Polis won’t release his own tax returns as the Democratic nominee for governor in Colorado.

The refusal from the Boulder congressman comes at a time when his tax history is facing scrutiny in a campaign commercial sponsored by the Republican Governors Association that notes he didn’t pay income taxes for five years in the 2000s — a revelation that first came to light in a prior congressional bid.

Four years ago today, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican challenger Bob Beauprez, the 2014 campaign rivals, voluntarily released their tax returns.

Walker Stapleton, the Republican nominee, also has not released his tax returns, despite saying earlier this year he would be willing to disclose the records. But the issue is most problematic for Polis, given his previous comments on Trump and the question of how much taxes he paid in the past.

Why should candidates release their tax returns? Well, listen to Polis. He outlined the rationale as he pushed a resolution in Congress regarding Trump’s tax returns.

“Tax returns provide an important baseline disclosure because they contain highly instructive information, including whether the candidate can be influenced by foreign entities and reveal any conflicts of interest,” Polis said in a March 20, 2017, speech on the House floor.

Watch the March 20, 2017 speech on C-SPAN. 

A month later, at a rally in Civic Center Park in Denver, Polis reiterated the reason disclosure is important. He noted that past candidates for president released their tax returns, then added: “But finally we have one that just might — just might — have something to hide and did not release his taxes.”

Polis is a millionaire who is using his personal wealth to bankroll his campaign. He’s contributed more than $18 million from his own pocket to his campaign, setting records in Colorado. He is the second richest man in the U.S. House, with an estimated net worth of $314 million in 2015, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Colorado Sun and its TV partner CBS4 first requested Polis’ tax returns more than a week ago, but Polis’ campaign has refused to make them available.

Instead, Mara Sheldon, a spokeswoman, released a statement that noted Polis released his tax returns in his 2008 congressional bid. But she declined to provide those returns either. Polis’ campaign has demanded TV stations remove the RGA commercial about his taxes, saying it is false, but none have complied.

Asked why he won’t release his taxes later Tuesday, after a campaign event in Denver, Polis told The Sun: “I’ve released seven years of taxes, and we’re waiting for Walker Stapleton to release any of his taxes.”

On the issue of whether he paid income taxes, Polis demurred: “I’ve paid every penny I’ve owed in taxes.”

Back in the Democratic primary, rival Cary Kennedy, the former state treasurer, said Polis and all the candidates should release their tax returns. The Colorado Independent reported that Polis said he “would be happy to” release his taxes if others did so.

Stapleton told The Independent the same: “I’m happy to release my tax returns but not from what’s in the blind trust because that violates the spirit of setting up the trust to begin with.” But a moment later, a spokesman retracted the statement.

The Sun and CBS4 requested Stapleton’s tax returns more than a week ago, but the campaign has not responded to the request.

UPDATED: This story was updated Sept. 12, 2018, at 9 a.m. to includes remarks from Jared Polis on the issue of his tax returns from a campaign event.