Sometimes the story isn’t as big a deal as the story about the story. How much different would United States history look if, the day after the Watergate break-in, President Nixon had said, “Campaigns make people do crazy things,” instead of getting involved in the cover-up that led to his resignation?
While there is little doubt there is nothing in Scott McInnis’ tax returns or John Hickenlooper’s charitable contributions that rise to the level of Watergate, the principle is the same. The longer questions persist, the bigger the story gets.
The Denver Post asked for the tax returns of these candidates. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to either of them. The media generally, and the Post specifically, have asked candidates for this information for years. McInnis refused the request (although he later let a reporter look at summary pages), while Hicklenlooper made his returns available. The story got more interesting after it was revealed that Hickenlooper had donated millions of dollars to charitable causes over the last several years. When the Post asked the follow-up question of who received those contributions, Hickenlooper refused to answer, saying that those charities didn’t deserve the scrutiny their disclosure might bring.
In the time since the candidates have refused to provide the requested information, the story has changed. It has morphed into bizarre side stories and conjecture about what the withheld information might show. We’re still six months away from the general election. Anything that release of records shows now will undoubtedly be old news before we vote, and opposition research is sophisticated enough that anything the candidates want to hide is likely to come out at some point anyway.
Most news stories have a limited shelf life. Stories about not being able to get information about stories take on a life of their own. Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates would be smart to remember that lesson, provide the information that has been requested and move on to the next round of issues.
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With one week left in what has been a partisan, contentious and rancorous legislative session, there are still several controversial issues left to resolve. Among the most interesting are regulation of medical marijuana, teacher tenure reform, campaign finance disclosure, how best to fund needed repairs to the Capitol’s dome and payday lending restrictions.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.