The concept of an independent expenditure committee associated with the Colorado State Republican Party is not a new one. It’s been discussed for several years, but Republican Chairman Ryan Call has taken steps to execute this plan. Not surprisingly, the move has been criticized by the likes of Colorado Ethics Watch and Common Cause, but surprisingly, the Party has taken criticism from some of its own. Politics – strange bedfellows. Who’d have thunk that the far right of the party would be aligned with Common Cause, but we digress.
We were confused about the committee and why it was necessary (despite CEW “live tweeting” yesterday’s hearing). So, we asked the Party to explain this. We asked five questions of Chairman Call. We got five answers (they’re long, we can’t help it, he’s a lawyer). You decide what you think. It’s a free(ish) country and all.
A ruling on this issue is expected in the next few weeks.
1) Why are you pursuing an independent expenditure committee (IE committee)?
For too long, Republicans have been fighting with one hand tied behind our backs, while liberals have enlisted unions and unaccountable special interests to raise unlimited funds to fight their battles, unfairly malign our candidates, and push a radical agenda. This was most recently seen in the recall elections in Pueblo and El Paso County, where Michael Bloomberg and unions spent millions of dollars to help Sens. Angela Giron and John Morse. It is also clearly evident in the millions spent by Tim Gill, Pat Stryker, labor unions and the Colorado Democracy Alliance network over the past four or five election cycles that gave Democrats majorities in the legislature and helped elect two Democratic governors.
The Colorado GOP’s Executive Committee recognized this problem, and unanimously voted to support this effort to form an independent expenditure committee that operates entirely within existing law, and will help our Republican candidates and advocate for our Republican principles in a fully transparent and accountable way.
2) What is the legal basis for pursuing the IE committee?
The United States Supreme Court ruled that political parties have the constitutional right to make independent expenditures without limit to influence the outcome of elections and promote issues, so long as they are independent from coordination with the candidates. Later U.S. Supreme Court decisions and numerous federal appellate courts have also ruled that contributions given for the purpose of independent expenditures may be made without limit. Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, the Colorado state legislature created the statutory regime by which any person – including a political party committee – may sponsor and operate an independent expenditure committee. The Colorado Republican Party’s approach is entirely consistent with the Colorado State Constitution, the existing and plain language of Colorado’s state statutes, and the rules currently in effect as issued by the Colorado Secretary of State. We aren’t seeking any change or expansion to the current rules or framework. We are asking simply that the Colorado Republican Party be permitted to operate within the existing campaign finance regime that governs independent expenditures that the legislature created, fully disclosing every contribution and expenditure, and allowing the Republican Party to compete in the marketplace of ideas on exactly the same playing field and according to the same rules of the game as the labor unions, liberal special interest groups, Colorado Democracy Alliance, and others.
3) Why are some Republicans against this? Why do some groups think this favors certain Republican candidates?
Unfortunately, there is always a small faction of people who would rather see a divided and weak Party, rather than a strong Party that can take on the unions, the radical special interests, and beat the Democrats. I’m not for a weak Party – I’m for a strong and effective Republican Party that wins elections helps secure and expand Republican majorities so we can actually implement public policy that is in line with our Republican values, and repeal the bad laws passed by the Democrats in recent years. I believe it is past time to come up with an answer to the Democrats’ Blueprint, and as the Chairman of the Colorado Republican Committee I resolved to do everything I could do to strengthen and grow our Party and help maximize our support for our Republican candidates within the existing structure of Colorado’s law until such time as the current and flawed campaign finance laws can be repealed or replaced.
The Colorado GOP does not spend money to influence the outcome of contested primaries between Republican candidates, and is prohibited by its bylaws and rules from doing so. Our job is to support the nominees chosen by our Republican primary voters and to support our Republican elected officials. And that’s precisely what this independent expenditure committee arm of our Party will do.
While I admit that this new approach was initially my idea, refined in consultation with our State Party general counsel, we have actively worked with and consulted many of our county chairs, grassroots activists, elected officials, national campaign finance law experts, our legal team and every member of our State Executive Committee over many months as we thoughtfully considered the best way to organize and run an independent expenditure committee operation of the Republican Party. The reason this plan was supported unanimously the Colorado Republican Party’s Executive Committee — which includes the perspectives of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, libertarians, the tea party and others — is because they know it will help support our Republican candidates in key races and be a vehicle through which our Party’s voice can be more effectively heard as we work to defend and advance the conservative principles that are at the heart of what Republicans believe.
4) How would this benefit Republicans?
The funds that are raised will be used only here in Colorado and only to help our Republican nominees at the state and local level. While not every Republican candidate may be the individual beneficiary of specific independent expenditures, our job is to find ways to win elections–particularly in the targeted statewide races and the swing districts that will help win legislative majorities, and this is one of the ways we came up with. Ask any Republican member of the state legislature – and virtually every conservative and Republican voter – whether they would prefer for Republicans to be in the majority or in the minority, and you have your answer as to how all Republicans will benefit.
5) Why does Ethics Watch think that your request would only benefit Republican candidates and why are they wrong?
Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause are wrong on their reading and application of the law. It’s interesting that Common Cause would be objecting to this approach, since the Colorado Republican Party is committed to the full and transparent disclosure of all contributions and expenditures of its independent expenditure committee arm (unlike Common Cause, which consistently refuses to disclose its liberal donors), and recognizing that Common Cause drafted the key definitions and regulatory framework in Article XXVIII of the State Constitution that are at the heart of our legal analysis. We also understand that Common Cause and Ethics Watch played a key role in drafting the Colorado state statute governing independent expenditure committees – signed into law by a Democratic governor and enacted when Democrats had majorities in the legislature–that the Colorado Republican Party is now seeking to apply in our petition.
If the Colorado Secretary of State’s office issues a ruling in connection with our petition for a declaratory order, it is our position that it would apply to all political party committees in the state that are also willing to operate strictly within the confines of the rules governing coordination and independent expenditure specified in Colorado’s Constitution, state statutes, and existing campaign finance rules. It is not necessary for the Colorado Secretary of State issue any new rules or guidelines or engage in the formal rulemaking process – all we are asking for is the for the Secretary of State’s office to apply the existing rules governing coordination and independent expenditure committees to the political party committees in accordance with the plain and clear language of the statutes and applicable case law. If Ethics Watch or Colorado Common Cause believes the interpretation and decision issued by the Secretary of State is wrong, there is an existing framework within the rules and Administrative Procedures Act by which they or any interested party or entity could seek to intervene and appeal the Secretary of State’s decision to the courts. The Secretary of State has an opportunity right now to provide clarity to the application of the existing statutory and regulatory framework, and help prevent the chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of the Republican Party and the imminent threat of campaign finance litigation that may be brought against the Party and its contributors if the Secretary fails to issue a clear ruling on the merits of our petition.