Candidates for GOP chair talk money

The Colorado Statesman

The five candidates for Colorado Republican Party chairman got into a spirited discussion about money — how to raise it for the state party, whether old campaign debts should be an issue and whether the chairman’s job should be a paid position — at the breakfast meeting of the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club on March 9 at Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant in the Tech Center.

Ryan Call addresses the Foothills Republican Club at a GOP state chair candidates forum March 10 at Copperfields Event Center in Wheat Ridge. The other candidates are, from left, Bart Baron, Leondray Gholston, Matt Arnold and state Sen. Ted Harvey.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

All the candidates agreed that the party needs to be raising more money so it can spend more on supporting candidates, but that’s where the accord ended. Tap rich donors or mine the grassroots? Hire a powerhouse fundraiser or do most of the job as chairman? Raise seven figures a year through the party’s website or adopt the model used by — gasp! — public television? The candidates proposed different approaches.

Ted Harvey promised to hire Marilyn Musgrave’s former captain Guy Short, who brought “modern technology and modern resources” to bear raising upwards of $10 million for the candidate. While he acknowledge Short wouldn’t pull those kinds of funds for the state party, Harvey declared that moving Colorado GOP fundraising into the 21st Century was a key step. “We certainly will be able to raise more money that way than the state party has because they don’t do it, they’ve never done it,” he said.

Leondray Gholston touted his 51-10 plan aimed at reaping $51.10 annually from every registered Republican in the state — which, he pointed out, would yield more than $50 million. The fundraising tool is sitting mostly unused on the state party’s website. It premiered in July 2010 when, Gholston noted, “we were just beginning to rip our own guts out,” so it didn’t get much traction then, but he promised to get it out there.

Bart Baron said the chairman needs, first, to “get that nut up front” by tapping big donors. He said he will be at a meeting with Republican contributors worth as much as $50 billion shortly after the chair election. He also has four Coloradans in line to be financial chairs for the state party, each with extensive fundraising contacts. Third, he proposed the party “set something up like PBS where we get monthly contributions through a credit card.”

Matt Arnold said the party needs a strategy, that over-reliance on small donors or big contributors won’t work. “We can’t rely on any single source to fund the party and the candidates,” he said. Most importantly, though, he said, “We have to have a product that people want to buy. We have lost our brand as Republicans — the reason people aren’t giving to the state party is because they don’t trust the state party.” The key steps, he said, are to have a plan, build a fundraising infrastructure, and show donors a return on their investment.

Ryan Call said all the quick solutions proposed by some candidates won’t do the job. “The reality is, there’s no magic bullet to this,” he said. “As a party, we’ve been waiting too long for Pete Coors and Phil Anschutz to walk through the door and write a check for $20 million, and it’s not going to happen.” Not only do campaign finance laws prohibit that solution, but, Call said, “We’re not the party of bailouts, we have to take personal responsibility.” He said his plan will cover all the bases, from the grassroots to regular sustained contributors and major donors. In addition, he said the state chair needs to work with county chairs to approach major donors throughout Colorado.

One of the Men’s Club members lobbed a question at Harvey just as he was preparing to hit the road for the day’s legislative business. The curious Republican asked, since Harvey still has a “large, unretired debt” left over from his 2008 congressional primary — listed at $19,300 on his campaign committee’s year-end FEC report — “should we be worried about that?”

Everybody has significant debt after running a campaign, Harvey said, listing primary opponent Wil Armstrong and past Senate candidates Jane and Gale Norton as examples. “My debt that I have is to staff — to one campaign manager who is willing to wait until I could fund that to pay it off,” Harvey said. “I have been paying it off and will continue paying it off, it’s not a significant issue.”

Call took the opportunity to jab at Harvey, saying, “It’s not realistic to think we can outsource (fundraising) to some political operative,” adding that “the chairman needs to drive the bus on that.”

Asked whether the chairmanship should be a paid position — as it has been under outgoing chairman Dick Wadhams, but wasn’t prior to his two terms — the candidates split.

“Heck no,” said Baron, who noted that he’s “comfortably” retired and doesn’t need the money.

“You get what you pay for,” Arnold said. “It’s a full-time job, of course it should be a salaried job.” He promised to take “at least a one-third pay cut” from what Wadhams has been making — estimated at $150,000 by most accounts.

Call said he’s willing to consider serving as a volunteer if that’s what the party decides, but he pointed to his proposal that the decision should go to the state executive committee rather than being made unilaterally by the chairman.

“I believe this seat needs to be paid,” answered Harvey, who has pledged to step down from his Senate seat if he is elected. “I guarantee you, Mrs. Harvey wouldn’t let me do this for free.”

Gholston said he thinks the position should be compensated but added that his job as a defense contractor offers him some flexibility, so he’d work things out if the executive committee decided not to fund a salary.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com