HBA negates role in Crank-Rayburn poll

By Leslie Jorgensen

The Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association PAC has announced it had “invalidated any agreement” signed by 5th CD Republican candidates Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn that called for the weakest candidate to withdraw from the primary race against incumbent Congressman Doug Lamborn.

The announcement added to public speculation about the HBA’s power and involvement in an agreement that was signed by Crank and Rayburn. In itself, the press release raised questions about the PAC’s ability to remain neutral in the contest between Crank and Rayburn, both of whom have been endorsed by the HBA.

The agreement was orchestrated because a three-way primary would virtually ensure Lamborn’s victory. The HBA has endorsed both Crank and Rayburn over Lamborn.

Crank and Rayburn had agreed that the weaker candidate would drop out of the primary based on a poll conducted jointly by Crank’s campaign pollster, David Hill, and Rayburn’s pollster, Wilson Research Strategies. The poll was implemented by Western WATS in Utah, a call center used previously by Wilson Strategies.

Crank emerged as the winning challenger with a double-digit edge over Rayburn throughout the poll. Rayburn, however, refused to honor the agreement he had signed, attributing his decision to “flaws” in the poll because more than 400 voters were polled and because the survey was not conducted entirely from May 27 to May 29, the original dates the candidates had decided on.

Crank first signed the agreement on the morning of May 27. Rayburn didn’t sign the agreement until 5:30 p.m. on May 28. Rayburn had requested changes to the questions, but did not amend the polling dates specified in the agreement.

The HBA issued a press release Tuesday, June 24, stating that questions arose from the “public opinion survey and an agreement between the candidates conducted by the HBA.”

“We cooperated with both campaigns to develop a framework where a single candidate could emerge to face the incumbent,” said HBA political adviser and PAC chair Kevin Walker.

“Unfortunately, the implementation and process for this effort were flawed,” Walker said, “so we agreed that the results of our efforts and the problems in its implementation invalidated any agreement that previously had been in place.”

Last week, Walker said the HBA had no official opinion of the poll, but acknowledged more than the specified 400 voters were polled on some dates that were not specified in the agreement.

Walker had stressed that the HBA’s role was as a “facilitator” to assist the candidates in developing the agreement.

The HBA’s power to invalidate the agreement and poll results is questionable because the PAC was not a co-signer to the agreement. Had the HBA paid for the poll, the local PAC could be vulnerable to a complaint of violating Federal Election Commission laws.

“We have no intention of paying for the poll,” said Rayburn, asserting that neither he nor his campaign staff had looked at the poll results. Rayburn contends that had his campaign looked at the results, it would have been obligated to pay for the poll.

Crank has repeatedly said his campaign intends to pay its half of the estimated $15,000 poll.

“Our view has always been that the agreement stands,” said Alan Philp, Crank’s campaign manager. “There is a ‘good faith’ clause in the contract.”

Philp said that clause allowed the campaigns to work out such problems as the polling dates or number of voters polled.

Although the Crank campaign has not received an invoice, it plans to issue a check next week.

The HBA press release affirmed the group’s continued support of both Crank and Rayburn.

The evenhandedness of the HBA, however, is questioned by some members of the HBA and the business community.

HBA political affairs director Sarah Jack, for example, e-mailed the press release to Rayburn campaign manager Mike Hesse shortly after 8 a.m., Tuesday, June 24. It was also e-mailed to the print and electronic media and posted on a Web site.

Jack did not e-mail the HBA press release to the Crank campaign, which was unaware that an HBA release was in the works.

“It went to the press,” Jack said. “If Mike asked me to send it to him, I did. If Jeff Crank had asked me to send it to him, I would have.”

Jack said because of media inquiries about the botched agreement, she and Walker were “forced” to issue a press release to reaffirm the HBA’s endorsements of Crank and Rayburn.