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Campaign spending about to ramp up big-time for November election

Author: Marianne Goodland - September 4, 2018 - Updated: September 24, 2018

spending ballot measures(Photo by eyegelb, iStock)

If you thought there was a lot of money spent on the primaries for statewide races, as the expression goes, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Tuesday before midnight is the next deadline for filing campaign finance reports for 69 independent expenditure committees backing legislative, gubernatorial and attorney general candidates. Then there are the candidate committees themselves, more than 300 of them, that must also file their latest spending and donation reports.

This is the last campaign finance report due before the 60-day window for the November election starts on Friday. As of Friday, all campaigns must report spending, with specific candidates listed, on electioneering communications.

What that means: Committees are gearing up for big donations now so that they can start sending out mailers, doorknob flyers, social media ads, robocalls, TV and radio ads, etc., etc., etc., (ad nauseam).

According to TRACER, eight new IECs registered in August, all tied to either the governor’s race or the race for the General Assembly.

The one that might raise the most eyebrows, however, is tied to Americans for Prosperity-Colorado and registered just a week ago. It’s the first time the Koch-brothers funded group has ever registered an independent expenditure committee in Colorado.

The AFP committee is backing three candidates, all Republicans: Christine Jensen of Wheat Ridge, who’s running for the state Senate seat held by term-limited Sen. Cheri Jahn; Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton and state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton, according to the information listed on TRACER, the secretary of state’s campaign finance database.

AFP-Colorado announced August 15 it was backing Neville’s re-election bid, but did not mention it was doing so through an independent expenditure committee. According to the August 15 statement, the “push will consist of door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, and advertisements highlighting Sen. Neville’s positive voting record on a range of issues that include increasing job opportunities, expanding educational opportunities for children, and defending Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). The group will encourage voters to support him in the November election.”

Why that matters: Filing an IEC could mean getting an eye on AFP’s donors, which have been relatively well hidden in the past.

Americans for Prosperity has been active in Colorado elections in the past, although as a 501(c)4 — an Internal Revenue Service designation that applies to “social welfare organizations” — the group is prohibited from spending more than 49 percent of its revenue on political activities. Under the IRS definition, a social welfare group must “further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements).” A 501(c)4 can engage in political activities so long as it isn’t the group’s primary activity.

A 501(c)4 group cannot directly advocate — using the magic word “vote” — for a candidate. However, an independent expenditure committee can do that.

In July, the IRS changed its stance on 501(c)4 groups. Previously, 501(c)4 groups only had to disclose to the IRS any donor who gave more than $5,000. That information is not made public. The IRS now says the 501(c)4 groups don’t have to disclose any donations, no matter how big.

A Washington Post editorial claimed that makes those organizations attractive to those who want to “channel hidden money to campaigns.”

Another IEC registered this year may have Jon Caldara beat for the most creative committee name. (Caldara’s committee is known as “Fix Our Damn Roads” and advocates for transportation funding through existing state revenues.)

The newest committee is called “It’s Time to Fix Stupid Colorado,” with the goal of “Making America Smart Again.”

The committee is based in Wichita, Kansas. According to the website, there are 19 state chapters, including Colorado.
“Because people aren’t paying attention, state legislatures now have members who have the potential to become the next Jim Jordan, Louie Gohmert … or even Mitch McConnell,” the website claims. “We fight back with the two weapons they’ll never have — a sense of humor … and the truth.”

The group claimed as its primary target for “Stupid Tuesday” in June Republican Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, who handily won a primary battle with Rep. Dan Thurlow.  “If you like politicians who can out-Trump Donald Trump, Ray Scott may be your man. Or not,” the website said.

For November, the group intends to pick other candidates — likely to be Republicans — and the “top two vote-getters will be our targets in the 2018 election cycle.” Nominees must be 1) a current member of the Colorado General Assembly; 2) a former member of the Colorado General Assembly trying to win back his/her former seat; or 3) a first-time candidate running for the Colorado General Assembly “who has already distinguished themselves by embarrassing the state.”

The committee, however, has yet to raise money for its efforts; so far it shows only a $20 donation, made last March by founder Ronald Dickens. The website does point to successes in Kansas and Nebraska. The group is considering its options for November.

Correction: AFP Colorado is backing Christine Jensen, not Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.