Post Draws Line in the Wrong Place

by Paul Chesser, Heartland Institute Correspondent on November 13, 2009

in Blog

Conflict of interest, public disclosure and government ethics are usually one of the few issues where conservatives like myself can “kumbaya” with the mostly left-leaning opinion editors at major metropolitan newspapers, but a situation today raised by the Denver Post is one in which they’re right, but don’t go nearly far enough.

The Post‘s editorial board today praises a move by Alice Madden, a cabinet-level adviser (think “czar”) on global warming policy for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, to give up a $3,000 monthly stipend she receives from the liberal Center for American Progress. This followed a Post editorial on Wednesday which chastened Madden for accepting the supplemental cash due to a perceived conflict of interest.

We think state Climate Change Coordinator Alice Madden has crossed that line by accepting a monthly stipend from the liberal research group Center for American Progress….

…it makes us uneasy that someone with sway over state climate change policy, an important and politically charged arena, would be paid by a group with such a defined agenda.

We think our government officials ought to have greater distance from those sorts of groups so as to have unfettered freedom to suggest action that might cut across the grain of accepted thought.

All fine and good, except (as the Post goes on to note) Madden’s entire $80,000 annual salary is privately funded by the Hewlett Foundation, the Energy Foundation, and the Denver Foundation. This has been the case for at least two years, when I discovered that Madden’s predecessor, Heidi Van Genderen, had the same arrangement to cover her compensation. But even though the Independence Institute‘s Jon Caldara and I spent more than a little time in a sit-down session last year with Post editorial page editor Dan Haley and his board explaining the problem with the arrangement, they see it differently, as they wrote on Wednesday:

Madden’s position in the Ritter administration already was something of an eyebrow-raising anomaly. Her $80,000 salary is being funded by the Denver Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Energy Foundation.

While at least two of these groups support sustainable energy, they don’t exhibit the same degree of activism as the Center for American Progress, whose leader was co-chair of President Obama’s transition team.

We hope Madden rethinks the nature of her relationship with the group so as to put to rest any potential future questions about her independence.

That the Hewlett and Energy Foundations don’t “exhibit the same degree of activism” as CAP on the global warming issue is so not true that the Post should be embarrassed and run a correction, because Haley and company obviously haven’t spent the five minutes it would take on the two foundations’ Web sites to get the story straight. A sampling from Hewlett’s climate change page (arrival time, 20 seconds):

In 2007, the Hewlett Foundation worked with five other foundations to sponsor a study of what could be done to fight global warming. The ensuing report, “Design to Win,” concluded that policy reform is one essential step toward stabilizing temperatures. Working with international foundations and organizations in regions with the largest greenhouse gas emissions, the Environment Program makes grants to help create efficient energy policies. This work targets Europe, the United States, China, and Latin America….

…National policy, supported in part by the scientific analysis of Hewlett Foundation grantees, will eliminate 320 metric tons of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. Our grantees continue to work on establishing sound energy and climate policies to increase energy efficiency and environmental health.


In Copenhagen this December, Hewlett Foundation grantees will join with representatives of approximately 170 countries and numerous other nongovernmental organizations to draft what participants hope will be a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.

Hewlett spends tens of millions of dollars on climate initiatives annually. What degree of activism is that? Then there’s the Energy Foundation Web site, which is almost entirely about climate and sustainability (click-through arrival time: less than 5 seconds):

We seek to develop and promote a comprehensive, market-based climate change policy framework that creates jobs and puts the country on course toward a sustainable energy future. We focus primarily on national policy to cap and reduce carbon pollution, while also supporting precedent-setting state and regional programs.

EF issued over $107 million in grants during the last two years, almost completely related to energy and climate initiatives, since that’s the reason the foundation exists in the first place. The Center for American Progress should be so exhibitionist about their climate activism.

As Caldara and I told our Post pals 18 months ago, Van Genderen — and now her successor, Madden — could not have a more thorough and all-encompassing conflict of interest on their hands than they do by living off these foundations. Ritter also had a Utilities Commission liaison (sort of an additional “energy czar”) with a similar arrangement from the foundations — don’t know if he still does. Their positions either ought to be eliminated, or instead funded by taxpayers so they will be accountable to the public, not to environmental pressure groups.

Care to reconsider, Dan Haley?

Update 7:35 p.m. EST Friday: My friend, Independence Institute investigative reporter Todd Shepherd, broke the story last month that Gov. Ritter’s cabinet members all failed to follow an executive order for three years and file conflict of interest reports. It was in Madden’s report that her $3,000 payments from CAP were discovered. The Post reported on it four days later.

Maurizio Morabito November 13, 2009 at 9:06 pm

CAP=Romm. Nobody can exhibit the same degree of activism as Romm.

Bob Greenlee November 16, 2009 at 12:54 pm

A great example of Alice in Wonderland.

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