Fraud is fraud

Why some of us think plagiarism is a big deal


So how big a deal is it when a candidate for governor commits plagiarism?

According to the candidate in question, former Congressman Scott McInnis, who's seeking the Republican nomination for Colorado's highest office, it's not that important. After being accused of plagiarism, he told a Denver television station that "Voters don't really care about this issue. They care about jobs, getting back to work."

McInnis wrote a series of articles about Colorado water issues in 2005-2006 as a “senior fellow” for a foundation. The articles, which were not publicly distributed at the time, came to light this year during the campaign. And it turned out that some of his work was taken, almost word-for-word, from an article -- "Green Mountain Reservoir: Lock or Key?” --- written by Gregory J. Hobbs and published in 1984 by the Colorado Water Congress. McInnis provided no attribution, not even a footnote.

Perhaps voters in general don't care about plagiarism. But as a member of the despised "chattering class," I find it disgusting, and I'll explain why. But first, a little background.

After service in the state Legislature, McInnis was elected in 1992 to represent Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, a swath from Grand Junction to Pueblo. Term limits were fashionable then, and he promised to serve no more than three terms -- a pledge he broke by seeking re-election in 1998.

He left office in 2005 and signed on to use his governmental experience and contacts for a big Denver law firm. But he also hired on as a "senior fellow" with the Hasan Family Foundation, based in Pueblo. He was to receive $150,000 a year for two years to write articles and give talks about Colorado water. As Seeme Hasan, who chairs the foundation, explained in a Denver Post op-ed, Colorado was suffering from a long drought, and the foundation deemed it important to get someone prominent to make the case for Colorado developing its full share of water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

After the first two years and $300,000, the McInnis fellowship was not renewed. The writing that McInnis submitted to the foundation was not made public until recently, after some prodding by Jason Salzman, a Colorado journalist.

And then reporter Karen Crummy of the Denver Post discovered that some of McInnis' material, concerning the operation of Green Mountain Reservoir on the Blue River, was taken almost word-for-word from an article by Hobbs, a water lawyer then who is now an associate justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.

McInnis blamed his "research advisor," Rolly Fischer of Glenwood Springs, a water engineer who had served as chairman of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Fischer said McInnis had told him to put together some background material in preparation for a 2008 run for the U.S. Senate, and he had no idea the work was for publication.

So there's the story, in brief. And here's why it bothers me so much:

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at