Colorado GOP takes page from Dems’ playbook on soft money |

Colorado GOP takes page from Dems’ playbook on soft money

Jessica Fender
The Denver Post

Republican operatives have started duplicating the political fundraising and organizational structure that catapulted state Democrats to power in 2004 and has helped keep them there since.

A PowerPoint presentation obtained by The Denver Post details the formation for Republicans of an outside-the- party umbrella organization called Common Sense Colorado, which hopes to direct $10 million to loosely affiliated conservative political groups.

A network of at least a half-dozen entities has taken shape in the past 16 months. And while there are no records with the secretary of state’s office showing what they’ve raised so far, the presentation puts that total at $702,000 from a handful of corporate and industry donors, with prospects for $8.8 million.

The documents describe a “formal structure that controls all soft money efforts in Colorado” that’s overseen by “political managers, business executives and attorneys to ensure full compliance.”

But the lawyer who’s helping establish the mass of nonprofit corporations and 527 political advocacy groups said the entities tied to Common Sense Colorado are just the tip of the conservative, soft-money iceberg.

“This is just one set of entities. This is 10 percent overall of what people are doing out there,” said Jon Anderson, a lawyer with Holland and Hart and former chief legal counsel to Gov. Bill Owens. “There are a ton doing this sort of thing. There are so many entities out there that are being formed because of people’s general dissatisfaction with government right now.”

The “Colorado Model” is widely credited as the source of the Democrats’ recent success in the state and has been exported to liberal groups across the country.

Common Sense Colorado’s presentation points out the control Republicans have lost since 2002: two U.S. Senate seats, two U.S. House seats, the governorship, the state treasurer’s office, the secretary of state’s office, and the state House and Senate.

Republicans were stunned in 2004 – a banner year for the GOP in the presidential election and elsewhere – when Colorado Democrats took back control of the state House and Senate for the first time in more than four decades.

Two years later, Democrat Bill Ritter reclaimed the governor’s mansion for his party, giving the Democrats control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature for the first time in nearly half a century.

Then, just before the 2008 election, the liberals’ model came to light, revealing a scheme where a high-powered board directed millions to a network of advocacy, get-out-the-vote, outreach and media groups. In 2006, the Democratic alliance marshaled at least $16 million to a web of 37 diffuse organizations, records show.

The organized effort with a decentralized structure allowed for control by key politicos without providing an obvious target for political opponents and their lawsuits.

It was completely new, said author and former Republican state Rep. Rob Witwer.

“It was a better political mousetrap, and it was perfectly allowed under the rules,” said Witwer, who co-authored the book “The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care)” with journalist Adam Schrager. “Now that the model is well-known, I think people are impressed with the simplicity and the innovation of the model.”

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