In what may be a first, Great Outdoors Colorado -- the fund that distributes tens of millions of dollars in lottery money to recreational programs each year -- has asked a judge to block an audit of its operations.
The state auditor says no one in her office can recall an entity of the state ever challenging an audit request in court.
The constitutional amendment that created Great Outdoors Colorado mandates the organization undergo an annual audit, but it also says the fund – known as GOCO – should be free of legislative interference.
In the past GOCO has cooperated with financial audits of its books. This year, for the first time, state auditor Dianne Ray wants to do more than check the finances. In January she informed GOCO her office would be conducting a performance audit, looking at the board's internal operations, including how well it’s meeting its constitutional mission.
On Monday, Ray told the Legislature's Audit Committee that GOCO's board stopped responding to her staff's requests in February, and then in June asked a judge to allow it to opt out of the audit entirely. In return the Auditor's Office has sued GOCO to force it submit to the review. The complaint is pending.
GOCO Executive Director Jim Spaanstra says the fund has always willingly complied with financial audits, but that a performance review could result in auditors recommending changes to the its administration, recommendations that would be reviewed by the legislative audit committee. That, Spaanstra believes, could open the door to GOCO's money eventually being diverting to meet other budget needs.
"Our board feels it has an obligation to the people that voted for [GOCO] to try to draw the line there," says Spaanstra. "Folks who developed the initiative back in the '90s were very afraid of us becoming a funding football, particularly in the legislature."
Spaanstra says the annual financial audits are broad enough to ensure that GOCO is meeting its constitutional obligations. The fund has retained an accounting firm to audit its books this year while it fights the auditor in court.
Last year Great Outdoors Colorado collected almost $62 million in lottery proceeds in fiscal year 2014-15 and distributed nearly $51 million in grants for parks, trails, and other outdoor recreation and conservation projects.