It’s nice work if you can get it.
The University of Colorado law school offered a part-time, six-figure job to Democratic political insider Alice Madden in the middle of her campaign for a seat on the governing board of the public university.
The job, leading an environmental policy center at the law school, was initially advertised as a full-time position. But it was changed to part-time after Madden showed interest, according to e-mails released to the Independence Institute under the Colorado Open Records Act.
“Will work 3/4 time so have time to campaign,” Madden wrote in a June 4 e-mail to Linda Shoemaker, a Democratic member of the CU Board of Regents, after accepting the $110,000 per year position. “Dream job for me!!”
Madden is a former state House majority leader, climate adviser to Gov. Bill Ritter, energy official in the Obama administration and fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress. She is running for a statewide seat on the nine-member Board of Regents this November against small business owner Heidi Ganahl, a Republican and political novice. If Madden wins, the board will be under Democratic control for the first time in almost 40 years.
Perhaps for this reason, the Madden-Ganahl contest has drawn much more attention than past elections for CU Regent. Environmental groups with close ties to California billionaire Tom Steyer – including 350.org and Conservation Colorado – are actively supporting Madden’s candidacy. Madden’s supporters are also raising outside money for the race, according to the e-mails released by CU.
Fundraising contacts with Steyer’s law firm
“I’ve made excellent progress on raising money for Alice Madden’s Independent Expenditure [Committee],” Shoemaker, a Democrat elected to the Board of Regents in 2014, wrote in an e-mail to a Denver law firm in early August.
The firm, Moye White, also has strong ties to Steyer. In 2014, the Denver Business Journal reported on how the firm is “helping billionaire Tom Steyer shape the future.” The firm’s name partner, Ted White, is part of Steyer’s “brain trust,” according to The Atlantic. He holds a senior position at Fahr LLC, “an umbrella entity for prominent investor and philanthropist Tom Steyer’s extensive business, policy, political and philanthropic efforts,” according to the law firm’s website.
Elections have ‘unfortunate repercussions’
Shoemaker did not respond to a request for comment, nor did she provide the name of the pro-Madden independent expenditure committee when asked by Complete Colorado. Elsewhere, however, she has argued CU would run better if Madden wins and Democrats have a majority on the university board.
“I believe the whole system will function better and more smoothly with less friction, with less controversy,” Shoemaker told The Colorado Independent in July. In the same article, Madden suggested a different solution. “Madden doesn’t like the idea of voters choosing regents and thinks they should be non-partisan and appointed positions,” the Independent’s Corey Hutchins wrote.
In a September interview with KGNU public radio, Madden elaborated, pointing to the example of Colorado State University. “We’re one of four states that elect their governing board for their university,” Madden said. “Right or wrong, this is the system we have. CSU, their governing board is appointed. CU, it’s elected.”
“We are elected and we use the party system and that’s the way it is,” Madden continued. “I think that has some unfortunate repercussions. The board has been controlled by the Republican Party since 1979. This race, if I win, that would flip.”
‘I don’t know Tom Steyer’
In an e-mail to Complete Colorado, Madden downplayed Shoemaker’s role in her quest for a seat on the CU board. “She has no role in my campaign, but I know she is supportive and she contributed to my campaign,” Madden said.
The former state lawmaker and Obama political appointee also says she hasn’t spoken with Steyer about political and environmental campaigns in Colorado. “I met him once very briefly at an event a few years ago,” she said. “I don’t know Tom Steyer.”
As for her new position at the CU law school – executive director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment – Madden said she was told during the interview process that “they were considering 75% to full time applicants.” Officials at the law school knew about her campaign for CU Regent “but we didn’t talk too much about it,” Madden said.
“My plan and our understanding has always been that I will continue to work at 75% after the election,” Madden said.
CU law school picks ‘fierce advocate’
The CU law school defended the decision to change the position from full-time, as it was advertised, to part-time for Madden. There were two finalists for the job and both “expressed interest in a work schedule that was less than full-time,” the law school said through CU spokesman Ryan Huff. The e-mails released by CU, however, say there were three finalists, including a candidate from out of state.
The CU law school chose Madden “due to her highly relevant work experience at the federal, state and local levels on energy issues,” Huff said.
But Madden’s application letter, released along with the other CU e-mails, strikes a political tone as well. “While serving in the State House, I was a fierce advocate for environmental issues,” she wrote. “In my efforts to win a progressive majority in 2004, I raised a record amount of funds. As majority leader, I helped pass an environmental and clean energy policy agenda which transformed our state from laggard to leader in developing a sustainable energy economy.”
‘Her own boss’
When Madden’s new job was announced in June, reporter Sarah Kuta with the Boulder Daily Camera managed to tease out the 75 percent part of the job. But the CU press release didn’t mention it and nowhere was the public told that a full-time position at CU had been changed to a part-time position to suit the schedule of someone running for the university’s governing board – and a six-figure part-time position at that.
Conflict of interest accusations have dogged Madden before. When serving in Gov. Ritter’s office as a climate adviser, Madden stayed on the payroll of the Center for American Progress – a left-wing think tank in Washington, D.C. – to the tune of $3,000 per month. She quit the think tank after a Denver Post editorial criticized the “clear conflict.” But at the same time, her salary for working in the governor’s office was funded by private foundations, which the Post called “an eye-brow raising anomaly.”
Nothing to see here, either?
When he learned of the law school’s decision to hire Madden in the middle of her campaign to become a regent, CU President Bruce Benson notified the board. “We have had employees who have been regents and regent candidates,” Benson wrote in a June 3 e-mail to the nine sitting regents. Benson told them CU’s vice president and university counsel, Patrick O’Rourke, would look into the matter further.
A week later, O’Rourke reported back to the board after meeting with Madden. “I believe she understands she must separate her activities as a candidate from her activities as an employee,” he wrote in a June 10 e-mail. Shoemaker, the Democratic regent, forwarded both of the internal e-mails from Benson and O’Rourke along to Madden.
To Madden and other political insiders, there’s nothing to see here. The CU law school wanted a well-connected environmental advocate who can raise a lot of money, and Madden is certainly that. Madden wanted a job that wouldn’t interfere with her campaign for CU Regent, and the CU law school was happy to work around her schedule, even if the job she applied for was initially advertised as a full-time position.
But political insiders don’t decide who serves on the CU Board of Regents. The voters do, and sometimes they look at things differently than the political establishment. Will that happen here? With the election less than four weeks away, we’ll find out soon enough.
Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.