Tag Archive for Coloradans for Economic Growth

Longmont power brokers launch perpetual electioneering

Same hammer, different beat(down)

Longmont has, for decades, been governed in the interest of a few select individuals and companies. This long-standing oligarchy remained successfully unchallenged and comfortable until the fall of 2007.

The first hint of trouble for these power brokers occurred when the citizens of Longmont rose up against the annexation of the LifeBridge 350-acre project south of Union Reservoir. A petition for a referendum to reverse a Longmont City Council ordinance had never before been successful, so it was not initially taken seriously. But the signature-gathering effort produced almost one-third more signatures than were required to place the matter before the voters in a special election.

On the heels of this success, the citizens of Longmont elected a council majority with a view to a different future.

When the new majority took legislative and legal action to block Firelight Park and the LifeBridge project from annexation into Firestone, all-out war was declared on what they referred to as the Benker Bloc (after former City Council member Karen Benker) or the Bloc of Four. These properties and developments were owned by members of city power brokers, chiefly developers and real estate special interests, many of whom are also members of LifeBridge Christian Church.

From that point forward there was a fierce determination to reclaim Longmont for the interests of the few, rather than the many. The rhetoric talked about “taking back Longmont.” The current mayor’s wife Stephanie Baum even had a blog with that name.

The first front in this war was the Longmont Times-Call. The conservative politics of the Times-Call has never been a secret. (See “Is there a bias? You tell me.”)

Out of hours of council discussion on a variety of topics, the Times-Call published a constant drumbeat of strategically chosen topics prominently placed above the fold with headlines chosen for their negative implications. Quotes within articles continued its derogatory objectives, and slanted coverage was given to positions that the paper opposed.

Letters to the editor were selectively placed to enhance the political position of the Times-Call and of those in the community and on council that it supported. Opinions of the community were further manipulated by the timing of OpEds solicited and printed.

The Times-Call hammered mercilessly on the “Benker” council.

After the November 2008 Democratic mandate at the national level, conservatives recognized that they could be headed for a permanent minority. At the local level, the heavy artillery appeared from both within and outside Colorado targeting the swing community of Longmont.

Operatives and their money came from D.C./Virginia, Montana, and from the Tom DeLay organization, Coalition for a Conservative Majority, who made no secret of its focus and targeting.

Scott Gessler, Republican candidate for Secretary of State, manufactured a lawsuit against the city and its Fair Campaign Practices Act. The LFCPA established sensible contribution limits and provided for greater transparency and disclosure. Only 19 words were struck from the Act because of the court’s temporary restraining order.

The Times-Call created a political improvised explosive device of its own with its court challenge of council executive sessions for legal advice on the annexation lawsuits—knowing full well that council actions were legitimate.

These strategies and tactics were very effective in agitating the public.

Rabidly anti-environmental and property rights absolutist organizations like Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) and Coloradans for Economic Growth bankrolled the attack campaigns during the 2009 election season. The winning candidates claim they had neither connection with, nor knowledge of, the activities of the WTP front organization Longmont Leadership Committee. If you believe that, then I have some beachfront property along the Gulf coast you might like to see.

Upon election, the new majority needed no other votes than their own to force settlements of these lawsuits, effectively using taxpayer dollars to reimburse campaign activities that placed them in office. The $182,000 dispersed to their endorsers to “settle” the lawsuits give a whole new meaning to publicly-funded campaigns. ($100,000 to LifeBridge/Firestone, $68,500 to the Longmont Realtors Association and Western Tradition Partnership plaintiffs and concealed donors, and $13,500 to the Times-Call.)

The incredible irony is that Mayor Baum and his troops have claimed and continue to claim that citizens’ free speech rights have been violated by the LFCPA. Given the content of the mailers that Longmont voters received from Longmont Leadership, that would be humorous if it weren’t so deplorable. The new majority has voted to dismantle the portions of the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act that provide for the most transparency, accountability and enforcement that is free from political influence.

The new council and those it represents want opposing speech squelched. They floated a balloon that popped when they sought to limit and rearrange the timing of the Public Invited to be Heard section of council meetings.

However, the best way to silence opposing voices is to remove them altogether from the council where their views receive a weekly airing. And that’s exactly the objective. The remaining three council members have been targeted for extinction. Sarah Levison received the opening shot across the election bow by blogger Wrongmont Rodriguez in the Times-Call on May 22nd.

The objectives, the strategies, the tactics are now exposed. This cat is out of the bag! The community will no longer stand for a repeat of the politically deplorable behavior from the take-back-Longmont crowd that has occurred since the 2007 election. Elections do, indeed, have consequences.

Coincidence or Coordination?

The Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act is explicit in its definition of an “independent expenditure.” It certainly covers all the bases so that there can be no misunderstanding or wriggle room.

“Independent expenditure” means any expenditure supporting or opposing a candidate that is not made with the cooperation or with the prior consent of, or in consultation with, or in coordination with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, candidate’s agent or candidate’s committee.

Cooperation – Consent – Consultation – Coordination – Request – Suggestion

Any or all of the above are unlikely to ever be provable in any judicial setting unless there is a whistleblower or an email that went astray.

But we humans often make our determinations with circumstantial evidence. Even the courts use this type of evidence on occasion.

Former Council Member Karen Benker was attacked week in and week out during the 2009 election season. Vying to replace her was now-Council Member Katie Witt. Forum after forum raised the issue of Witt’s knowledge and complicity in these attacks. Witt resorted to playing Monkey in this Monkey Business: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Really?

Voters seldom look closely at campaign reports. But they should. They tell a lot about who, what, where, when, why and how.

So let’s play connect-the-dots. Longmont Leadership Committee (funded by Western Tradition Partnership) paid Advanced Direct Marketing Inc. (ADMI) $10,873.49 for several post card mailings attacking Benker and for a pretend newspaper “Longmont Leader” attacking Benker, Fissinger, McCoy and Lange and promoting Baum, Santos, Witt and Sammoury.

Guess who else used ADMI? Lo and behold, it was Ms. Witt! Add $2,006.60.

Citizens for a Brighter Future (funded by Coloradans for Economic Growth) also used ADMI $6,671.36 for three mailers, in support of Alex Sammoury and the other three.

So was there A WINK AND A NOD? Or was it more than that? The unprecedented dirty politics of the last campaign strongly suggest it was more. And without an independent quasi-judicial body composed of citizens from across the political spectrum, there will never be the transparency and accountability needed for truly clean campaigns.

The floodgates have been opened and the dirty water may never be dammed up again, Longmont. They’ll be back in 2011 and thereafter, unless and until the Longmont voters make it undeniably clear that they reject both outside influence and not-so-uncoordinated campaigns by attack groups.

Scott Gessler: By the company he keeps

Scott Gessler, Republican candidate for Colorado Secretary of State

Scott Gessler, Republican candidate for Colorado Secretary of State

Scott Gessler, the Republican Party’s ever-so-slick choice to run for Secretary of State this November has a dossier that only an authoritarian father-party could love.

While moaning and groaning, ranting and raving, over the influence of soft (527) money, he is up to his neck inside these organizations.

The 527 designation applies to political organizations that have tax-exempt status under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Service code.  They are organized and operated “primarily for the purpose of directly or indirectly accepting contributions or making expenditures” with the intent of influencing the “selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any individual to Federal, State, or local public office or office in a political organization, or the election of Presidential electors.”

Gessler’s group, Coloradans for Change is a 527 that took at least one massive donation of $125,000 from the Senate Majority Fund and another donation of $100,872 from the Colorado Leadership Fund.  Both groups were defendants in a lawsuit by Colorado Ethics Watch for sponsoring unethical campaign ads and skirting campaign finance laws.

Money, however, appears to flow both ways with some of these 527s.  On two occasions funds flowed from Coloradans for Change to the Colorado Leadership Fund, in one instance for $46,125.  Might this be a case of “political money laundering” or are we merely talking about political incest?  And where Scott Gessler is concerned, there’s certainly a lot of the latter going on.

Gessler is also the man behind the curtain for Colorado Conservative Voters, a 527 whose purpose is “to education Colorado citizens about issues, officeholders, and political candidates that further conservative values.”

And if all this 527 hypocrisy isn’t enough, he’s rubbing questionable elbows with a guy named Scott Shires, also connected to Coloradans for Change and the Senate Majority Fund.

Shires, along with Scott Gessler, is also listed as Western Tradition Partnership’s registered agent.  Western Tradition Partnership is registered with the IRS as a nonprofit 501c4. According to Luis Toro, general counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, these nonprofit groups have come to replace 527 organizations as the favored shell for political contributions.  They became popular after 527s faced greater disclosure requirements at the state and national level.

Gessler joined this shell game with Western Skies Coalition and Coloradans for Economic Growth, both of which have had complaints filed with the IRS presenting evidence that these organizations might have spent more of their total resources on actions that influence elections in Colorado rather than on social welfare activities, in violation of their federal tax-exempt status.

Shires, the Republican operative and front man for many 527s, has a history of violating campaign reporting regulations.  Shires has also been indicted on an alleged money laundering scheme to hide an illegal gambling operation.

Scott Shires is behind yet another 527, the Colorado League of Taxpayers who attacked Longmont council candidate Richard Juday in a January 2008 mailer.  A similar event occurred in Garfield County.  Colorado Ethics Watch sued Shires for campaign violations in that case and he was fined in excess of $7,000.

So these two “Scotts” are joined at the political hips.  Both Republican operatives.  Both of whom appear to have never met an election law for which they didn’t have contempt.

Flying further under the radar are Gessler’s other political bedfellows.  He’s allied with Coalition for a Conservative Majority (founded by Tom DeLay, who has been indicted on felony conspiracy and money-laundering charges) and he is a frequent “guest” at rightwing reactionary groups, such as the Tea Party.

Scott Gessler has the political gall to think we should make him Colorado’s next Secretary of State, the position that guarantees the security and legitimacy of our elections.   No way, Mr. Gessler.  You aren’t qualified.  It’s a matter of trust.  It’s a matter of common sense.  It’s a matter of integrity.