Petition,” League of Women Voters

April 23, 2018; Daily Camera

Just one day after Johns Hopkins University demanded their name be removed from a petition for a Boulder, Colorado ballot initiative on marijuana sales, the nonprofit spearheading the effort pulled the plug.

The 501c4 organization Funding Our Future initiated the petition in order to seek sales tax revenue for “preventative health care.”

Forty-five percent of the revenue would go to the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins. The remainder of the revenue would be spread among Boulder Community Health, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, Clinica Family Health and “other appropriate nonprofit organizations to be determined by the City Council.”

At some point, even city residents who were initially supportive of the petition began to wonder why they were attempting to raise revenue in Colorado that was aimed squarely for the East Coast. In a further blow to the nonprofit advocacy group’s credibility, there are now allegations that this aspect of the measure was not clearly disclosed. Eric Budd, a former candidate for the Boulder City Council and a signatory on the petition, claimed, “I’m honestly trying to understand who’s running this and what’s their intention. I put my name on it because I wanted to be part of this conversation” about preventative health care, “which I think could do some good for our community, but now I’m questioning that this is being run by a reputable organization.”

Funding our Future, through its only public spokesperson, Jennifer Koch-Donovan, a former Colorado Democratic Party leader, has not provided context for the group’s platform or strategies. The Boulder Daily Camera also noted that the organization “has no presence online and has never been involved with ballot measures prior to the current Boulder effort.” Koch-Donovan is a partner at Paladin Political, a group used to conducting partisan campaign and advocacy work, particularly in the Midwest.

Johns Hopkins University declared in a formal statement that they “would not have accepted, nor did we ever intend to accept, funds raised from new taxes proposed in this ballot initiative.” They claim their institution was named “as a result of a miscommunication and misunderstanding between our staff and ballot initiative supporters” and that they never granted permission for the ballot measure to use its name or fundraise on its behalf.

NPQ has raised the alarm in the past that charitable nonprofits can be subject to exploitation by political groups for public relations gains. We have even published calls for further disclosure of dollars going to (c)4, (c)5, and (c)6 organizations engaged in more than a de minimis level of political activity.

Nonprofits of any stripe must guard against being misleading at best, and exploitive—or exploited—at worst. Johns Hopkins was at some point alerted to the alleged unauthorized use of its name by this nonprofit. Removal of the university’s name would’ve meant the petition would have had to have been redrafted, reapproved, and then circulated once again. In the end, Funding Our Future clearly decided that was too steep a hill to climb. They scrapped the initiative, along with its over 4,000 signatures. The effort seems notable for its amazing lack of transparency. What’s also clear is that something else that Funding Our Future might also lack…is a future.—Jeannie Fox