Update below: Wednesday, Colorado Ethics Watch requested an IRS investigation into the nonprofit status of Open Government Institute of Colorado based on a video featuring OGI's executive director, Jessica Peck. The claim: OGI was working to benefit Congressman Mike Coffman, who's running for reelection. In response, Peck maintains that "this attack is utterly baseless."
The brouhaha erupted after the April 25 publication of "'Nonpartisan Watchdog' Caught on Tape Getting Awfully Partisan" by the Colorado Pols website. The item features the following video from a Colorado Republican Business Coalition luncheon, in which Peck can be heard saying, "And Congressman Coffman, we're working on some things that may, in a very nonpartisan way, benefit you in your endeavors in November, so I'll talk a little bit about that. So I come here as a partisan Republican...."
Here's the clip:
A Colorado Ethics Watch release about the IRS complaint maintains that this statement "can be interpreted as stating that OGI has already taken specific actions to 'benefit' U.S. Rep. Coffman's 'endeavors' in November, i.e. his reelection. Ms. Peck's remarks also allude to future activities that will be conducted by OGI between now and Rep. Coffman's November election."
"Ms. Peck's remarks are tantamount to telling a roomful of potential donors that a contribution to OGI is a tax-deductible way of supporting Representative Coffman's reelection campaign," adds CEW director Luis Toro in a statement. "The IRS has made it clear that 501(c)(3) organizations may not support or oppose candidates for office. There are many nonprofit organizations in Colorado, representing every point of view, who take care to follow these rules, and none of us want one bad apple to spoil the bunch."
In response to an interview request from Westword on this topic, Peck -- previously a medical marijuana attorney who practiced under her married name, Jessica Peck Corry -- offered a release of her own. In it, she states:
"This pathetic and unethical attempt to slander us has no basis in fact and comes from CEW's tired old playbook of lobbing attacks against anyone it perceives as a competitive threat to its organization. CEW has misstated federal rules for nonprofit advocacy and utilized a sloppy secret video edited to intentionally misrepresent my statements at a recent event."
How so? In the release, she maintains that the video cuts off the remainder of her sentence, in which she supplementing the description of herself as a partisan Republican by disclosing that "she is also the executive director of a nonprofit organization focused on achieving nonpartisan objectives."
Peck bolsters her argument by excerpting "Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations," characterized as an IRS guide. The section reads:
"The political campaign intervention prohibition is not intended to restrict free expression on political matters by leaders of organizations speaking for themselves, as individuals. Nor are leaders prohibited from speaking about important issues of public policy.... To avoid potential attribution of their comments outside of organization functions and publications, organization leaders who speak or write in their individual capacity are encouraged to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization."
Peck maintains that she followed these edicts by telling the luncheon crowd that she wears "two hats" -- one as a partisan Republican, the other as the executive director of a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization -- and delineating on several occasions when she was speaking for OGI or herself.
Don't count on this explanation placating the folks at Colorado Pols, which Peck shorthands as a "liberal political blog." Yesterday, the site posted another clip from the luncheon, with her heard saying, "Um, we're gonna take care of some business really quickly, I am going to give money for two, the, uh, two groups that solicited before, uh, we all sat down. So, bottom line, you have to get in people's face and ask for money.... So here is for Danny, please note it's $19.99 so it will not be reported to the Federal Election Commission."
This last comment draws a laugh, presumably because the Danny in question is Danny Stroud, who's running for Congress. Here's video number two:
Not that Peck seems cowed by the prospect of an inquiry. The release quotes her as saying, "We welcome any and all inquiries from the IRS into our status and are confident that this complaint will be seen for what it is: an ill-conceived and unethical political attack."
Update, 12:17 p.m. May 4: Colorado Pols has responded to Jessica Peck's assertions that her comments at a Colorado Republic Business Coalition luncheon were taken out of context by posting the entirety of her remarks under the headline "Peck, Lies and Videotape." The footage doesn't echo Peck's description of a sentence that had been clipped off in the first video above, and the CP crew contends that the material as a whole substantiates or possibly even enhances the Colorado Ethics Watch complaint.
Judge for yourself: Here are Peck's unedited remarks, spread over two videos:
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