McInnis plagiarism charges called ‘double disappointment’

GOP Guv candidate casts blame on 'research assistant'

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The man who recommended Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis for a $300,000 fellowship to sort out Colorado water issues said it was a “double disappointment” to learn Monday that McInnis stands accused of plagiarizing large sections of the articles he claimed to have written for a nonprofit foundation. And the woman who heads the foundation that funded McInnis said late Monday night that if the allegations against the former congressman prove accurate, she wants him to return the money.

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Dr. Malik Hasan told The Colorado Statesman in an interview Monday night that McInnis failed to perform the work the Hasan Family Foundation anticipated when McInnis accepted what the philanthropic body considered a two-year commitment to help protect the state’s water interests. McInnis was awarded a fellowship in 2005 after retiring from Congress, where he represented the Western Slope and southern Colorado for six terms.

“My expectation was, he would work full time or at least a substantial amount of time, and the effort was not just publishing some articles but educating the public,” said Hasan, who emphasized he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the foundation, which is chaired by his wife, Seeme Hasan.

Soon after accepting the fellowship, McInnis informed the foundation he had also taken a full-time job with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Hogan & Hartson (renamed Hogan Lovells earlier this year after its merger with a giant British law firm). Hasan said he “was not particularly thrilled” with the news but that McInnis assured him he wouldn’t “notice any change in (his) enthusiasm” or his work on the fellowship devoted to water interests.

“But to tell you the truth,” Hasan said, “I was disappointed both with the quantity and the quality of work he put into it. Now that I’m hearing even the small amount of work he put in — the news seems he may have plagiarized it — that’s a double disappointment.”

Hasan said McInnis was supposed to “provide a sort of forum” where various interested parties could come together to make sure Colorado gets its fair share of water.

Instead, McInnis penned roughly two dozen articles titled “Musings on Water” and delivered talks based on the essays to a handful of community groups.

Portions of the essays McInnis submitted to the foundation appear to echo a 1984 article written for Colorado Water Rights, a publication of The Colorado Water Congress, by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, who was then a lawyer with the Denver firm Davis, Graham & Stubbs, The Denver Post and 7News reported Monday night.

A spokesman for Hobbs said the Supreme Court justice confirmed for The Denver Post similarities between his decades-old article and the essays purportedly written by McInnis, but he made the judgment without knowing whose articles so resembled his.

“Justice Hobbs was shown the side-by-side comparison of his writing with the other works last week,” said court spokesman Jon Sarche, who responded to an inquiry from The Statesman because Hobbs was out of the state this week. “And at the time he did not know who had written the other works. He did say, ‘Yeah, it does appear there is some similarity, and I would expect with that kind of similarity, there would be some attribution.’ ”

Hobbs made clear he was not an expert in plagiarism, Sarche said, so didn’t want to comment beyond that assessment.

In Wednesday’s edition, The Denver Post reported another instance of suspected plagiarism by McInnis uncovered by its reporters — this time pointing to strong similarities between a Washington Post opinion article and a newspaper column and floor speech delivered by McInnis while he was in Congress.

A spokesman for the McInnis campaign admitted to 7News reporter John Ferrugia the water articles included passages copied from Hobbs’ article but blamed a researcher hired by McInnis.

McInnis told the Hasan Family Foundation he did the work himself.

The researcher, identified by the McInnis campaign as Glenwood Springs resident Rolly Fischer — an engineer for 28 years with the Colorado River Water Conservation District — could not be reached for comment by The Statesman.

Statements issued Tuesday by the McInnis campaign and by McInnis himself during numerous interviews with Denver TV news departments fingered Fischer for providing McInnis with research material “taken from other source material without proper attribution.”

McInnis admitted he made a mistake but still asserted it was due to Fischer’s error, in a statement released late Tuesday by his campaign.

“It’s unacceptable, it’s inexcusable, but it was also unintentional,” McInnis said. “I made a mistake, and should have been more vigilant in my review of research material Rolly submitted.”

In a statement issued late Monday by the Hasan Family Foundation, chairwoman Seeme Hasan said she was “shocked, angry and disappointed” to learn McInnis might have plagiarized material during his fellowship with the foundation. She also said the foundation had been unaware McInnis hired a “research advisor” and that such activity “was never brought to our attention, nor authorized” under the terms of his $300,000 fellowship.

“The work that the Foundation hired Mr. McInnis to do was to be done solely by Mr. McInnis, and not in concert with anyone else,” she said.

A McInnis campaign advisor disputed the foundation’s account.

“My understanding is Scott was allowed to hire a research assistant at his expense, which he did,” McInnis strategist and longtime political ally Mike Hesse told The Statesman late Monday. “And the gentleman who did the research, I think, will have a statement on that tomorrow.”

The McInnis campaign sent an e-mail to supporters Tuesday again attributing problems with the articles to Fischer.

“Rollie Fischer has apologized for this error,” wrote McInnis campaign manager Nancy Hopper.

Fischer, however, told a different story when contacted Tuesday by The Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

“Scott’s responsible for it,” Fischer told the newspaper. Other than that brief comment, he added, “I have nothing to say.”

Also Tuesday, McInnis said he was attempting to apologize to Hobbs and the Hasans.

“I’ve reached out to Justice Hobbs and the Hasan Family Foundation,” he said, “and hope to meet with both in the not too distant future.”

A spokesman for the state Judicial Department said a McInnis representative called Hobbs’ chambers on Tuesday and relayed a message that McInnis wanted to speak with Hobbs, leaving a phone number. However, when Hobbs tried to return the call, no one answered, so he left a message.

McInnis campaign spokesman Sean Duffy said Monday night he wanted to talk to the candidate before commenting on Hasan’s charges that McInnis fell short of expectations during his two-year fellowship. He didn’t respond to The Statesman on Tuesday.

Dan Maes, the Republican facing McInnis in the August 10 primary, said the buck stops with McInnis.

“I think it’s important that we find the truth out, and if the truth reveals (the articles were) indeed plagiarized, it ultimately is the congressman’s responsibility no matter who did it,” Maes told The Statesman Monday night. “He can try to lay it on someone else, but ultimately, it’s his responsibility.”

Maes — who has had his own run of bad press recently over allegations of campaign finance violations — stopped short of condemning his opponent. But that didn’t stop him from tweeting McInnis: “Maybe he isn’t as well versed in water as he leads everybody to believe he is.”

If the articles were plagiarized, McInnis might have to refund the money he was paid to write them, Maes suggested.

“I think he should be subject to whatever laws or policies apply in this situation if indeed he did plagiarize,” Maes said. “And if returning the money is one option, it should certainly be considered.”

The woman who runs the foundation that paid for the articles sounded more certain.

“The Hasan Family Foundation takes the issue of plagiarism extremely seriously,” Seeme Hasan said. “At no time was it brought to our attention that Mr. McInnis used information not cited or unethically used work that was not his own. All work was represented to be original and final. We will conduct an independent, internal investigation and if the allegations are proven to be true, we will demand Mr. McInnis return all monies paid to him by the Foundation.”

Malik Hasan said the fellowship compensated McInnis so well — $150,000 a year — because the foundation believed it was competing with other potential full-time employers seeking to hire the soon-to-be former congressman. The pay came close to matching what McInnis would have made if he’d taken a job running a college, Hasan said, citing as an example one position McInnis was rumored to be considering.

McInnis’ background in Congress, including a seat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, made him ideally suited to tackle problems surrounding Colorado’s water interests, Hasan said.

“The original idea was that he would create an awareness in Colorado of the challenge posed by the distribution of the water rights from the Colorado River and the water that flows (other directions) from Colorado,” Hasan said. In addition, McInnis would spend time “organizing and helping keep more of the water in Colorado,” which had “ended up getting the short end of the stick.”

“I thought it would be a good project for Scott with his background,” he said, adding that the foundation intended to “fund him almost at the level of a full-time person. That was the idea going forward.”

However, after McInnis took an additional full-time job with Hogan & Hartson, Hasan said it became apparent he wasn’t doing the work the foundation had expected.

Hasan said his wife, in her capacity as the foundation’s chairwoman, “wrote him a very nice letter saying, this is what the foundation expected to him to do, and basically telling him that he needed to do more.”

In 2006, when it came time to consider renewing McInnis’ fellowship, Hasan said the former congressman’s job performance made the foundation’s decision an easy one.

“The feeling was, if he did a good job, we would review it and extend it for another year or two,” Hasan said. “After two years, Scott called and asked if it would be extended. I said, ‘In good faith, I cannot recommend that to the foundation board.’” The fellowship terminated after running out its original period, Hasan said.

Earlier this year, when press inquiries raised questions about the work McInnis did for the foundation, Hasan said his wife approached Hesse and suggested it was up to McInnis — not the foundation — to set the record straight.

“She said to him that there are problems here,” Hasan said. “Rather than the foundation coming in and clarifying, it would be better if Scott put out a statement indicating what he was supposed to do, and what he did, and what he couldn’t do because he was too busy.” Hasan said no one heard back from McInnis or his representatives, which is why he wanted to go public with his concerns on Monday.

Hesse disagreed with Hasan’s version of events.

In an interview with The Statesman, Hesse said the Hasans merely wanted to make sure their foundation was portrayed in a good light as press attention turned to the articles McInnis wrote during his fellowship.

“They expressed to me concern over the fact they have done a lot of good things for Colorado, and they were worried how this might reflect on the foundation. So they asked me to convey to Scott that he emphasize the fact that the foundation has done a lot of great things for Colorado and will continue to do so,” Hesse said. “That’s my recollection what they asked for,” he added.

After he passed the Hasans’ message on to McInnis, the candidate agreed that was a good plan, Hesse said.

“Scott was happy to do that because he thinks they have done a lot of good things,” Hesse said.

Hasan said recent events have changed his assessment of McInnis.

“I always thought in my dealings with him that he was straightforward and honorable, but in this matter, as I said, I was disappointed.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com