One of the biggest political stories of last year has got to be the escalating war between the Republican Party establishment, the so-called "country-club Republicans," and the Tea Party.
Here in Colorado, you hear about the battle if you tune to conservative talk radio (e.g., Grassroots Radio Colorado on KLZ, Peter Boyles on KNUS) or check out websites like OGRE eXposed.
Against the backdrop of strife you hear on the radio and elsewhere, you have to look below the surface when the Colorado Republican Party takes the unusual step of setting up its own Super PAC, as it did last year. You have to wonder if the Super PAC will wage war not just on Democrats but also, perhaps, its own.
The state GOP organization, per its bylaws, is not supposed to oppose any individual Republican candidate prior to the primary election. So it's not supposed to favor, for example, an establishment Republican over a upstart Tea Partier.
But in a recent petition to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, the state GOP acknowledges that its Super-PAC would be completely independent from the State Party, possibly allowing the state party to skirt the mandates of its organizational bylaws and get involved in primary races, opposing candidates of its choosing, GOP or Democrats.
"The Colorado Repubican Party's (CRP) petition argues that the Super-PAC ("independent expenditure committee") will not be the CRC or 'one of its committees' because the Super-PAC will be independent," said Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro via email. "The Petition says that after the State Party Chair appoints the executive director and management committee, neither the State Party Chair, or any other officer or agent of the CRP, nor any committee will have 'any degree of management or control over the development of any of the plans, projects, activities or expenditures of the [Super-PAC].' Page 17 of the Petition. So no one in the Party could enforce any rule against the Super-PAC that would prohibit it from intervening in primaries."
In August of 2012, the state GOP set up its Super-PAC, called the Colorado Republican Party Independent Expenditure Committee, and spent over $85,000 on state legislative races, according to the GOP petition, filed by Richard Westfall.
Now the GOP is worried that "one or more persons or organizations" will file a lawsuit claiming its Super-PAC violates Colorado's election law.
And so Republicans are petitioning the SOS to make a formal determination that it can spend unlimited amounts of cash from any source, including corporations, because, as the petition states, the GOP plans to use its Super-PAC to raise funds "with no contribution limitations on either amount or permissible contributor."
In response to the state GOP Super-PAC petition, Colorado Ethics Watch filed a petition, as described on its website, asking the Secretary of State "to conduct a full rulemaking proceeding so that the ultimate decision will apply to all parties alike and so that all interested citizens may have a full and equal opportunity to have their voices heard during the process. Ethics Watch urged the Secretary to issue a proposed rule that would prohibit political parties from using independent expenditure committees to circumvent restrictions on political party fundraising in Colorado law."
The key question here is whether a political party, like the state GOP, should be allowed to set up a Super-PAC, and the Secretary of State has scheduled a hearing to address the GOP's Super-PAC petition tomorrow, Jan. 7, at 1:30 p.m.
Absent will be answers about what Tea Party activists can do to ensure that the State GOP doesn't use its Super-PAC against them.
Toro said this question is outside of his expertise, but he wrote:
Presumably the by-laws could be amended to clarify that the Super-PAC can't support or oppose candidates in a contested primary. But if the Super-PAC were to be subject to state party rules it wouldn't be very independent, would it?
So this leads back to the battle cry you hear from the Tea Party folks on the radio. They often say they have to take over the Republican Party. They say it's the only way they win the war.