University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl wasn’t yet officially running for governor last August, but the room of Republican donors knew it was coming. Introducing her to the Lincoln Club of Colorado luncheon audience, emcee Kelly Sloan concluded by saying, “Of course, rumors persist about her future ambitions, which I will leave to her to address or not as she so chooses.”
Ganahl didn’t announce her candidacy that day. Instead, she talked a lot about a favorite topic: defending free speech on college campuses and other ways conservatives can fight back against the largely liberal culture of today’s universities. She shared her various experiences as a conservative regent on a progressive campus, such as trying to revitalize CU Boulder’s dormant debate club, supporting student leaders of Turning Point USA, and pushing back against her Democratic colleagues’ desires to address issues of diversity and equity. She also praised former President Bruce Benson for founding the university’s conservative think tank, the Center for Western Civilization, Thought & Policy, which was later renamed in his honor.
Her mention of the Benson Center led her to address a topic she’s been reluctant to speak about in public: former Benson Center Visiting Professor John Eastman, who is currently under investigation for his role in helping former President Trump attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Ganahl was encouraging the room of Republican supporters and donors to “vote with [their] dollars,” in part restricting any contributions to CU to specific programs, such as the Benson Center.
“One of the things I found as a Regent is that probably the most effective way you guys can change things is to vote with your dollars — vote with your tuition dollars and vote with the dollars that you donate. … I do think the money is really the only way we’re going to make a difference,” Ganahl told the group. “Whether it’s exposing speaker fees, whether it’s the Benson Center, which is privately funded, which protected it over the last year with all the controversy that was going on with Eastman.”
Ganahl’s mention of “exposing speaker fees” references examining the university’s public records to see where organizations and departments are spending the university’s money. Conversely, the Benson’s Center’s private funding offer “protection” in part because its donors and spending are shielded from public view. At the time Ganahl claimed that the Center doesn’t receive any public money, but a recent investigation by Colorado Newsline revealed that tens of thousands of dollars flow from CU’s general fund to the conservative think tank.
Later Ganahl told the room to be very specific with any donations to institutions of higher education like the one she represents. “If you do donate to a university, make it very clear in the contract — and you are allowed to do this — how that money will be spent and that it cannot go into a general pool, said Ganahl. “And then tell them what your donor intent is for those dollars.”
Eastman was working for CU when he authored the infamous coup memo and when he spoke at the Jan. 6, 2020, rally that preceded the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In March a federal judge found that Eastman and Trump likely committed crimes in their attempt to prevent Joe Biden from taking office. CU subsequently barred him from speaking on its behalf and stripped him of his classes. CU Provost Phil DiStefano offered the only public condemnation of Eastman by university leadership, with then-President Mark Kennedy, as well as Ganahl and the other Regents, remaining silent.
A month earlier, however, Ganahl praised Eastman, calling him “fantastic” and describing his work as “riling some folks up.”
Since launching her campaign, however, she’s avoided publicly discussing Eastman or her own views on the Big Lie, an omission that’s dogged her gubernatorial run, particularly following reports that she praised an election conspiracy group at a private meeting of supporters.
The Ganahl campaign did not respond to a request for comment on what exactly Ganahl finds controversial about Eastman and whether or not she agrees with his debunked claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent. This article will be updated with any response received.
The event’s other speaker, Professor Alan Kahan, had at the time just been selected by the Benson Center to replace Eastman as its Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought for the 2021-2022 academic year (His appointment has since been extended for another year.). Kahan agreed with Ganahl’s view that money talks and conservative donors should earmark their gifts very carefully.
“Colleges like to receive dollars! They’re willing to make sacrifices of their principles — liberal principles — if that’s what it takes,” said Kahan. “If you really want to see a true Western civilization course happen, you don’t say, ‘I’ll give the money to Common Core.’ You say, ‘I, of course, don’t want to dictate the curriculum or the reading is because that’s against academic freedom and no professors ever tolerate that. But yeah, I want to insist that there be some kind of Western civilization course, in a recognizable form, and here are a few parameters.’ Or it’s going to be run by this advisory board, and this advisory board will consist of honest-to-God real distinguished academics, but academics of a certain sort who are going to make these decisions.”