Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler tossed his hat into the 2014 Governor's race to unseat Democrat John Hickenlooper in September of this year, and has been working to capture an early lead when he suddenly suspended his campaign in order to send his resources into a local school board election.
Understandably, this has outraged many, including the good citizens of Douglas County, the focus of Gessler's efforts. Denver Post:
Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler says his passion for education reform is why his 2014 gubernatorial campaign is shifting gears over the new few days to focus on electing a conservative slate of candidates to the Douglas County School Board on Tuesday.
But Gessler’s announcement, both in an e-mail and on Facebook, has attracted critics who contend the state’s top election officer — and a former elections law attorney — is violating campaign finance laws with announcements about “paid opportunities.”
Not at all, said Gessler’s political director Rory McShane.
“We are currently following and will continue to follow all campaign finance laws,” McShane said.
Campaign finance laws prevent a candidate committee from accepting contributions or making donations to another candidate committee.
Here’s what Gessler wrote in his e-mail: “We’re actively recruiting door-knockers to get out the vote. We also have paid opportunities … .”
Here’s what he wrote on his Facebook campaign web site: “If you would like to help we’re looking for walkers! It pays $11 per hour!”
McShane said groups supporting the conservative school board candidates are paying the walkers, not Gessler’s gubernatorial campaign but that’s not how critics read the missives.
Boy, are those groups supporting the conservative candidates spending money in that race, too. There's a slate of four candidates who are associated with the Tea Party who have received between $38-40,000 each from 25 donors or less. Compare and contrast that with the homegrown candidates sponsored by people who actually live in the area. They have ten times the number of donors but only about a quarter of the funds.
The Douglas County School Board race is ground zero for union-busters right now, but it's not the only one, nor is this a new tactic. Conservatives going all the way back to the halcyon days of the John Birch Society have long believed school board takeovers are the very first step to "taking back their country," and education reformers are taking advantage of that to bust unions for their own ends.
However, it could be the first time that an elected official and candidate for Governor has decided to pay people to get out the vote for them while suspending his own campaign. In the email he sent out to his supporters on his email list, he was clear about his motives:
Against the advice of the Denver political elites, I’ve ordered my campaign for Governor to shift focus for the next week until the Douglas County elections, to ensure that conservatives are victorious this year.
We’re actively recruiting door-knockers to get out the vote. We also have paid opportunities – but we need you if we’re going to be successful as a team.
He donated his email list and a piece of his website to recruitment to elect candidates funded with outside money in order to bust unions, but he's just fine with that. He's an election lawyer and known for his own voter suppression efforts in Colorado during the 2012 general election.
Gessler also appears to be ethically challenged.
First, it was learned that a discretionary account intended to cover official state business was tapped to pay for a partisan junket to Florida. Reporting by The Denver Post also showed that, at the end of the fiscal year, Gessler reimbursed himself $1,400 for expenses for which he has no documentation.
A short time later, Gessler lowered fines owed the state by the Larimer County Republican Party by tens of thousands of dollars and then agreed to help them raise money to pay off the debt.
He may have shrugged off criticism about the moonlighting and the GOP shilling, but Gessler will have a hard time ignoring complaints that he misused taxpayers' money.
Earlier this month, it was learned that he spent $1,452 from his office's discretionary account to attend a Republican National Lawyers Association meeting and the Republican National Convention in Florida. Questioned as to the prudence of spending taxpayer money on partisan activity, the secretary implied that everybody does it and criticized the scrutiny as politically motivated.
Oh, maybe so, except that he didn't produce the receipts for it.
Gessler has long-standing ties to shady political groups, like the Western Tradition Partnership, now renamed the American Tradition Partnership by Gessler as part of his services to whoever funds that particular 501c4. Whatever the name, boxes of financial records were discovered in a meth house in Colorado, and shed some light on the dark money moving in Colorado and Montana:
But the details available on WTP, which has worked to elect conservatives in Montana and Colorado and has won national attention for a lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to apply its Citizens United ruling to states, are striking.The bank records highlight WTP's ties to groups backing libertarian Ron Paul. The Conservative Action League, a Virginia social welfare nonprofit run at the time in part by John Tate, most recently Paul's campaign manager, transferred $40,000 to WTP in August 2008, bank records show. Tate was also a consultant for WTP. In addition, WTP gave $5,000 to a group called the SD Campaign for Liberty, affiliated with Paul and the national Campaign for Liberty.
The bank records also illustrate how cash passes between dark money groups, further obscuring its original source: $500,000 passed from Coloradans for Economic Growth to WTP to the National Right to Work Committee, over a few days in October 2008. Coloradans for Economic Growth and the National Right to Work Committee are social welfare nonprofits that don't have to disclose their donors. Tate and others paid by WTP were also once associated with National Right to Work.
What Gessler and his moneybags pals are doing in Douglas County isn't all that different from what Republicans do in general. They move in gangs, they capture big bucks to buy the office and then pay off their sugar daddies with quid pro quo activities like suppressing the vote, weakening campaign finance laws, and busting unions.
Is it any wonder the parents in Douglas County are aggravated? What happened to caring about the children, after all?