Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A second look at Colorado Springs Forward's IRS report

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 2:21 PM

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Questions have arisen as to the accuracy of an IRS Form 990 filed by Colorado Springs Forward, a business nonprofit that finances local political campaigns and strives to change public policy.

Notably, CSF would like to see the Colorado Springs Utilities board, now comprised of City Council, become an appointed board possessing technical expertise in utilities and operating beyond the reach of voter recall.

Our cover story on Nov. 16 took a deep dive look at the agency.

It might be a little thing, but CSF misrepresents at least one board member on the Form 990 for the 2015 calendar year.

Jariah Walker, a property manager who ran for City Council in April 2015 but was defeated despite backing from CSF, served on the board from May 2015 until February 2016 when he took a job with the city's economic development office.

But he's not listed as a board member on CSF's 2015 report. There might be some other board member discrepancies as well. We're waiting to hear back on questions we've raised about that.

In addition, CSF reports it spent $173,307 on political activities. That, indeed, is the amount the organization pumped into the 2015 city election via its political action committee, but could some of its other spending qualify as political activity spending? For example, William Mutch, a political consultant, was paid $105,500 during the 2015 year. Though his official title was "policy director," did he not spend any time on candidate politics?

This is important, because CSF's nonprofit status rests on its involvement for or against political candidates NOT being its primary purpose. The organization states its goals on the Form 990 as advocating for:
A WELL-FUNCTIONING, EFFECTIVE COUNCIL-MAYOR FORM OF GOVERNMENT, ADEQUATE PUBLIC INVESTMENT AVAILABLE TO MEET INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS, TO PROTECT AND FORTIFY THE EXISTING MILITARY PRESENCE IN OUR REGION AGAINST SEQUESTRATION OR BASE REALIGNMENT, COMPETITIVE LOW-RISK UTILITIES, AND TO SUPPORT THE VISION OF CITY FOR CHAMPIONS.
CSF says on the Form 990 it spent $467,020 in 2015. Half of that would be $233,510. If Mutch spent only half his time on candidate politics, the spending figure would be $225,557 for the year for or against political candidates, which nears the half-way mark. That means an argument could be made that its primary activity is advocating for or against political candidates.

It's also worth noting that CSF's then-director John Cassiani was paid $65,292 in 2015; yet, the Form 990 reports on its first page that "salaries, other compensation, employee benefits" totaled $59,373. (That figure includes $54,875 in "compensation of current officers, directors,
trustees, and key employees" and $4,498 in payroll taxes. That leaves a $5,919 difference between Cassiani's pay and the total employee cost reported on the Form 990.)

In any event, the agency overspent its income by about $54,500. Isn't that deficit spending? Luckily, CSF had money left over from 2014 to cover the overage.

We're not sure what happens, if anything, if a nonprofit provides inaccurate information on its Form 990.

We raised most of these questions with CSF's executive director Amy Lathen, former El Paso County commissioner, and its contract communications director Cindy Aubrey, who also works for Pikes Peak United Way, on Monday but haven't heard back. If we do, we'll circle back and update.



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