Call: No problem with RGA contributions

GOP Chair says independent outside groups have First Amendment right to make independent expenditures
The Colorado Statesman

The timing for State GOP Chairman Ryan Call couldn’t have been more precipitous last Wednesday when he bravely showed up at Garcia’s Mexican restaurant in the Denver Tech Center to address the 7 a.m. weekly meeting of the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club. Less than 48 hours before, a story had broken in the Denver Post outlining how the national Republican Attorney Generals Association had placed ads in the June 24 primary race against Tom Tancredo, who had at one time been the frontrunner for governor, but whose popularity among Republican voters seemed to have waned with the airing of the negative television and radio spots. The Republican Governors Association reportedly wrote a check to RAGA to cover the costs of the media buy, and through a maze of other Republicans and/or groups whose exact role isn’t fully known (such as an organization of former Romney for President supporters), the ads were deemed responsible, in part, for Tancredo’s primary loss to Bob Beauprez, now the nominee for governor against incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Call, as leader of the Colorado Republican Party, has been barraged with questions and accusations as to what role, if any, the state party had directly or indirectly played in the gubernatorial campaign brouhaha.

Walking into the lion’s den — or in this case smack middle into a restless herd of elephants — probably wasn’t high on Call’s wish list of things to do less than 100 days out from the November general election. But his appearance before the conservative conclave had been scheduled prior to this latest fracas, and the party leader keep true on his promise. In fact, the always genial Call took it all in stride and made light of his anticipated jostling among fellow partyfolk.

“Obviously when I got the invitation to attend the traditional and semi-annual roasting and flogging of the state party chairman, I of course signed up for it because I was always look forward to that opportunity in front of the Arapahoe County Men’s Club,” Call began before sliding into an optimistic narrative about what to expect in the U.S. Senate race with Cory Gardner, and the governor’s race with, as everyone of course knew, Beauprez.

But barely had Call wrapped up his assessments of the closeness in polls when the president of the Men’s Club directed the guest speaker to please address the real elephant in the room — the controversy over the recent disclosure of outside Republican groups sticking their head into Colorado’s governor’s race.

“Not a soliloquy here,” advised Jack Theis, the ringmaster of the club. “Give these people an opportunity [to ask questions] because I know that several of you are chomping at the bit.”

And so began the dialogue between State Chairman Call and members of the weekly Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club on the controversial topic of the RGA ads and Tancredo.

In its heyday, the early morning gatherings in the southeast environs were predictably rough and tumble occasions where spirited debates and controversial speakers provided topical fodder along with the coffee and eggs. At this particular summer meeting, the attendance hovered around only two dozen or so members, but they were clearly looking for red meat and Call came prepared. He told members at the onset that as an independent outside organization, the RGA had a right to support who they wanted to, and any funds spent on behalf of a candidate were not only legal, but an important part of their First Amendment rights.

Likewise the state chairman chastised Tancredo for not responding to the negative ads against him if he were so upset, and in no uncertain terms told club members that neither he nor the state party should have to bear responsibility for the attacks.

Party vice chair Mark Baisley, speaking on a local talk radio station, has called for an investigation of exactly what transpired with the national groups becoming involved in a Colorado political race.

Presented below are the questions of club members and the responses from the party chairman that ensued during the breakfast meeting of the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club. Many of the questions came from former Men’s Club president Cliff Dodge, a former state senator who served as manager of Tancredo’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign when Tancredo was the standardbearer for the American Constitution Party; and from Nathan Chambers, an attorney known for not mincing words.

Call began with an overview of the differences between outside Republican groups and the state party itself.

Ryan Call: The Republican Governors Association is not the party. It is an outside 527 organization. It was originally formed in 1963 as an association of Republican governors where their purpose is to elect Republican governors, to support Republican governors and to help beat Democrats. Ronald Reagan was into that group for a few years in the late ‘60s when he was governor of California. It’s a group that’s been around a long long time. But it is not the party. It’s not the Colorado Republican Party, it’s not the Republican National Committee, it’s an outside, now currently organized statewide 527 organization — just like any other outside independent 527 organization over which I and the Republican Party exercises no influence or direct control. It is illegal for me to coordinate with them in any way and so I don’t. So if you want to assign responsibility to me for what the RGA does with their resources, you might as well make me responsible for what happened in Watergate or what happened in any other thing which I have no control. Some of you were around in 1972, I was not, but if you want to make me responsible for the break-in of DNC headquarters, that’s fine. Independent activists do what they are going to do.

Let me make another observation... This is an allegation that is being levied by what kind of an organization now? A left wing group, which is essentially the equivalent of Ethics Watch or Colorado Common Cause at the national level... They exist for one purpose, and one purpose only: to support Democrats and to beat up on Republicans, and to sow dissention among Republicans. And guess what, whoever is sort of dialing this up, fell for it hook, line and sinker.

First and foremost they’re allegations. Even if they were to be true, that the RAGA was involved in transferring money to the Republican Governors Association and then transferring it to other 527s to ultimately make expenditures, the person or the entity that was responsible for making that expenditure, it’s not the RGA, it was, if anyone, the Republican Attorney Generals Association. So you need to ask yourself why would the Republican Attorney Generals Association be interested in having or not having a particular candidate for governor on the ticket with their candidate for Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman. That’s a decision and an analysis you can all come to your own conclusions about, and anything I would offer would be simply supposition. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to come to a conclusion as to why they were concerned about the shape of the statewide ticket and how it might impact the other races.

Let me make a couple of other observations. The dollars that we’re talking about that were spent on the ad that everyone is objecting to, the radio ad that was critical of one of our candidates for governor, compare how much — $75,000? — How much did the Democrat Governors Association spend in connection with our Republican primary? $450,000 in television ads, and nearly $300-$500,000 on direct mail. I’m not seeing a lot of outrage being expressed about that quantity of spending.

The other observation that I will make is, even if we’re talking about a $75,000 expenditure [for] radio and television ads, the candidates themselves are ultimately responsible for their campaign. If there is spending happening by outside special interest groups and it goes unresponded to by any candidate, that’s the candidate’s responsibility of responding. How much did Tom Tancredo spend on television ads? Zero. So if anyone is looking for responsibility for not responding to an ad that was made and paid for by an outside interest group, responsibility shouldn’t be laid at the feet of either me or the Republican Party.

Questioner: I understand what you’re saying about the 527 and everything and I expect Democrats in Washington and the Democrats in Colorado to do their damndest to muck up the waters as far as we are concerned. But I guess what sort of bothers me is that we’re saying that the 527 was led by Chris Christie and they’re all our guys and they’re playing in something that seems to me to be an anathema to the Republican party and I’d really like your comments on that.

Call: I appreciate that. You know there are a lot of outside groups that have... are comprised of Republicans.

Questioner: This is not an outside group.

Call: No, no.

Questioner: It’s an inside group, that’s the problem.

Call: Sure. I say outside in that it is not the party structure formally. It is an outside independent organization.

Questioner: And I understand that, but Chris Christie’s leading it and he, you know, he is one of us.

Call: Sure, and so is Sarah Palin and so is Ken Cuccinelli... as head of the Tea Party and Tea Party Express. I don’t know about you, but I get emails every single day by these outside groups beating up on Republicans or promoting one Republican candidate in the primary or for the other. Do you get the same? I do, every single day. I also get emails, and you certainly saw spending in connection with this last election in the primaries. We didn’t have that many primaries here in Colorado, but in legislative races, I don’t see people expressing outrage at the misrepresentations made by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners against many of our Republican candidates. They were comprised with Republicans involved and negative and dishonest attacks against Republicans you know. We don’t express outrage about those kinds of things.

Questioner: We did.

Call: Some, some of us did.

Questioner: We certainly did.

Call: Sure, and that’s the challenge. If we believe in liberty, if we believe in the First Amendment, we have to stand for the liberty and the ability of outside groups to express their own opinions. Chris Christie is just as entitled to support whoever he thinks is going to be the next best candidate for governor, just as Rick Perry is, just as all the good people that are on these various lists.

...We don’t think it’s illegitimate for Bob Schaffer to endorse Scott Gessler as a candidate for governor. Why do we think it’s illegitimate for Rick Perry or another Republican governor to express their view with respect to who they think would make a good Republican governor. I don’t understand why the double standard. If we express outrage about $75,000 worth of spending that might, might have been transferred that ultimately came from the Republican Governors Association, why don’t we express the same level of outrage when we see others expressing their First Amendment views on these issues? So I understand it’s frustrating, but you’re entitled, just like Chris Christie or the RGA, to spend $75,000 in support of your candidate if you want to.

Questioner: So you think it’s okay. That’s what you’re saying? It’s okay to do that?

Call: I think it is okay.

Questioner: Yes or no, okay to do that?

Call: Okay to do what?

Questioner: To muck in our primaries.

Call: I think anybody is entitled to express their opinions.

Questioner: It’s also sort of behind the scenes. It wasn’t just somebody expressing an opinion as you made a reference to. This is all behind the scenes and it involved money.

Call: Well, I believe that the expression of political views is one of the things that we need to vigorously defend and protect and not intimidate or censor. Any views or opinions or perspectives with which we disagree, we have to stand and support the viability of people to express those.

...And if we have an objection to that then we have the opportunity to express our own opinion or contribute to a countervailing group, or a countervailing candidate or party that has the opportunity to communicate a different set of perspectives.

Questioner: Do it openly.

Call: They did.

Questioner: They didn’t. They didn’t do it openly.

Call: Well and again, ultimately every single ad that was run had the disclaimers of who paid for it. In a period of a few days, you could figure out who potentially funded those issues, so you can hold them accountable. So if you don’t agree with the way that the RGA may have invested $75,000 in resources, then don’t contribute to the RGA.

Questioner: From what I understand, End Point was the outfit that brokered, that placed those anti-Tancredo commercials, and I need to ask you if you are the registered agent for End Point.

Call: No, I don’t know who that group is.

Questioner: End Point.

Call: Oh, OnPoint Strategies, it’s a limited liability company. Yes.

Questioner: Are you the registered agent?

Call: I, I... when I, when the entity was originally setup I served as the lawyer.

Questioner: Did you know anything about this?

Call: No.

Questioner: The question wasn’t asked of me but I am going to say as a preface of my point of view, I think it’s perfectly fine to donate to whoever they want to. If it’s not the party, if they want to give money to whoever they want, they can. They’re free to do that. What my question though, Ryan, is there anything at all untoward about the way it was done. About the Governors Association giving the money to the Attorney Generals Association and the Attorney Generals Association then funding them... Because that to me, I don’t know if that’s inappropriate or illegal or even untoward. There’s nothing in my mind, there’s absolutely nothing in the world wrong with the Governors Association playing in our sandbox as much as they want, they can spend as much money as they want to whoever they want. My question has to do with the logistics.

Call: Well from a legal perspective, there is nothing that I have seen, or I’m not intimately aware of all these things, which would have given me a reason to think that it was done illegally. Transfers between 527 organizations and 501(c)(4) organizations happen every day, and have been for years and years. That’s not another surprise. You know, without having any information regarding what the donation was even for, it is, simply supposition by outside groups to try to connect these dots of these multiple groups.

Questioner: Hypothetically, would it be proper for the Governors Association to give $50,000, $500,000 to the Attorney Generals Association with the provision that these funds are to be used in a particular way... Could the memo line on the check from the Governors Association and the Attorney General Association on the memo of the line say [the funds] were to be used in the Colorado gubernatorial primary?

Call: Well it could be but...

Questioner: Would that be illegal?

Call: It could be but if they were to do that it would specifically direct that dollars were given for the purpose of making an independent expenditure. That would trigger a reporting requirement, you know, to indicate that was the reason for which the donation was given. But if it’s just a transfer... then the Republican Attorney Generals Association is completely free to what they’re going to do... they are completely free to do with those dollars whatever they deem that are fit or proper. In much the same way that you know a person who gives the Republican Party a contribution, they rarely direct it and it would be illegal for them to say I’m giving you a contribution with the intent that you give this then to another candidate — that’s illegal. But if they just simply say I’m giving a contribution to help out Republican candidates, go and do good things, that’s typically the way it works...

Questioner: But when they come in on the primary, then they’re screwing up the local party itself.

Call: There’s going to be a lot of outside groups spending money and we can’t control or influence that process. We’re going to do our best to try and help our candidates, but the observation is right. If you’re mad at Chris Christie, if you’re mad at John McCain, if you’re mad at John Boehner, if you’re mad at what happened at the primary in Mississippi, don’t talk to me, it’s not my problem, not anything I can influence or control, but what we can influence and control is what we can have right here in Colorado with the races that we have.

...Don’t take it out on Bob, don’t take it out on Cory Gardner, don’t take it out on the Republican party of Colorado, because it’s not going to be helpful if what we want to do is to win.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com