Two state senators are calling for an audit of Connect for Health Colorado after a CBS News Colorado investigation found the organization gave money to certain political organizations and funded political functions such as galas and helped certain political organizations with fundraising.
Connect for Health receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, both directly and indirectly. Not only does the Legislature allocate money, but insurance companies also pay donations to the nonprofit in lieu of paying taxes on the premium. It also receives fees on health care premiums when it sells policies.
Its 2023 budget is $52 million — a 9 percent increase from last year — and its CEO admits some of that money has mistakenly gone to left-wing political interests, including ProgressNow.
The liberal advocacy group celebrated its 20th anniversary with a $250-per-person gala at Casa Bonita. Nearly every top elected Democrat in the state attended the event, whose sponsors included several left-leaning organizations, along with Connect for Health; an organization that is supposed to be supra-partisan.
“A fundraising gala for an overtly political organization just doesn’t make sense,” said Republican state Sen. Jim Smallud. He sits on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and last year introduced a bill giving Connect for Health an additional $4 million for education and advocacy rather than a political gala. “I think it would be pretentious to try to make the argument that supporting a political gala or fundraiser somehow contributes to education and outreach. Sounds a bit far-fetched to me.”
ProgressNow isn’t the only left-leaning group to receive a donation from Connect for Health.
In the past few years, he has also sponsored a group party by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Pueblo Pride by the Equality Alliance of Southern Colorado, Transgender Day of Remembrance and the Young Invincibles Changemakers Gala, which is chaired by the wife of a Democratic representative of the state, who co-chairs the House Health and Insurance Committee.
“I’m not going to try to get out of it. I’ll be honest,” Kevin Patterson, CEO of Connect for Health, told CBS News Colorado.
Patterson called the sponsorship a mistake: “We have people, a group of people who work in this space and these are organizations that they usually work with to put on events, and I think that might be part of the connection, but I think you can just hold me accountable for the decision.”
Patterson says he’s not sure how much money Connect for Health has given to political groups like ProgressNow — which received a $1,000 donation for its gala — but says it won’t happen again: “I own that as a mistake we made as an organization and we’ve already taken steps today to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Smallwood and Republican state Sen. Barb Kirkmeier, who sits on the Connect for Health Oversight Committee, also plan to make sure the political sponsorship stops. They will request an audit of Connect for Health.
As a 501(c)(3) organization, it is not allowed to donate to a political entity or it may lose its nonprofit status.
While some of the groups that received money are involved in health care, one of the donations was to an organization called The Steady, which trains Democratic candidates and campaign workers.
Open enrollment for those buying health insurance on the state exchange begins Nov. 1.