THE BLOG
12/27/2014 08:10 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

Republican Gadfly on War Path Against Republicans

During this year's GOP primary, top Colorado Republicans, including Colorado GOP Chair Ryan Call and Attorney General John Suthers, claimed to have no knowledge of a GOP-funded campaign attacking Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo.

Matt Arnold, who runs Campaign Integrity Watchdog, has a hard time believing this, and he thinks a couple of campaign-finance lawsuits he's filed have a chance, even if it's a bit of a long shot, of  clarifying things. (See the complaints by clicking on "Complaint Search" here and typing "Campaign Integrity Watchdog" in the "organization" line.)

Arnold's legal action follows up on revelations in July that the Republican Governors Association (RGA) funneled money through the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) to attack GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo.

The question is, can the discovery process during technical and narrow campaign-finance legal proceedings illuminate broader information indicating, for example, whether Ryan Call knew about RAGA's involvement in the Tancredo attacks? Like Call, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who's on the board of RAGA, has also said he didn't know about RAGA's or the RGA's role in the anti-Tancredo campaign.

Experts told me Arnold will have to be lucky if he can even use the discovery process during legal proceedings to turn up this information. But it's not impossible and will depend on the timeline and substance of the cases, judicial discretion and other factors. Normally, campaign-finance lawsuits, especially if they don't allege collaboration between candidates and independent groups, are decided rather quickly, leaving little time between the hearing and a trial for much discovery, like depositions and document requests.

One of Arnold's complaints alleges that Colorado Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity, a state campaign committee, violated campaign finance laws by listing contributions from Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity, a federal super PAC that received money from RAGA, as in-kind expenditures.  And the federal Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity also failed to make any disclosure when it contributed to Colorado Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity, as required by state law, according to Arnold.

Another complaint alleges that the Colorado Republican Party Independent Expenditure Committee (CORE) did not report its website's attack ads against Democrats during the final 60 days of the last election.

Arnold also alleges in this complaint that CORE illegally "coordinated fundraising activities (contributions), expenditures, and electioneering communications with one or more candidate committees"--opening up a legal process that could illuminate who knew about the anti-Tancredo campaign.

"Through ignorance or not caring, Ryan Call set up his donors to take a fall," said Arnold, who is not known to defend Democrats very often and normally espouses conservative causes, like Clear the Bench.

"To me, it's not about partisan politics," said Arnold. "It's about integrity. The political class is more interested in making themselves look good than in doing the right thing."

For his part, Tancredo, who's so angry at RGA President, NJ Gov. Chris Christie, that he's started a Stop Chris Christie PAC, praises Arnold's legal work. Talking with his good friend KNUS' Peter Boyles Dec. 17, Tancredo said:

TANCREDO: "I'm hoping that what happens with these complaints that have been filed by [Integrity Campaign Watchdog] and by Matt Arnold, I hope that most Republicans will at least find out about it, and remember this when it comes time to vote for leadership in this Party, here in Colorado, which will be, by the way, in February and March."

Tancredo did not tell Boyles whom he'd back as a replacement for Call, but he did say:

TANCREDO: "Obama was the reason why, across the nation, the Republicans did as well as they did.  And in Colorado, they should have done a lot better, of course."

"You understand that I believe -- this is my personal belief, here--that Ryan Call, the Republican Party chair here in Colorado, is up to his nose in [the RGA/RAGA attacks]. I believe he knew about it," Tancredo said to Boyles.

On another radio program, KNUS's Jimmy Sengenberger Show, replayed on Saturday, Suthers responded to Tancredo directly:

SUTHERS: "I'm understanding that on your program, Tom Tancredo accused me of having knowledge of [the RAGA involvement in the Tancredo attacks], and I have no knowledge whatsoever of it," said Suthers, adding later that he didn't think it was appropriate for RAGA to attack Tancredo. "I don't know how it happened. I do think, unfortunately, that some of these organizations are used for conduits. And it appears the governors came to the Republican AGs. I will tell you, it did not go through the executive committee as a whole. Whether the chairman sanctioned it or not, I don't know. And to this day, I don't know. And I've never had that clarified. I do not know how that happened."

Arnold, a GOP gadfly known for fighting the Republican establishment in Colorado, has filed about 30 campaign-finance complaints this year, and he's lost many of them. His lawsuits generally target the state party establishment, as in the CORE case.

One complaint, in particular, illustrates Arnold's persistence and shows the public benefits of disclosures required by campaign finance laws. Its story starts during this year's GOP primary after Arnold noticed a website and Facebook ads attacking Republican State Senate candidate Laura Woods. This was clearly direct campaign activity, said Arnold, but the website didn't disclose who paid for it, as required by Colorado law.

But the website's host was listed, and after Arnold's Integrity Campaign Watchdog filed a lawsuit, a judge issued a subpoena requiring the company to disclose who paid for the site. Arnold said the hosting company disclosed that it was working for GOP operative Alan Philp, who's now associated with Aegis Strategic, a Koch funded outfit set up to elect "winnable" candidates.  Its president is talk-radio host and former Republican congressional candidate from Colorado Springs, Jeff Crank.

The case dragged on all summer, Arnold said, but eventually Philp "fingered Protect and Defend Colorado as responsible for the Woods website."

So Arnold pursued a case against Protect and Defend Colorado, a registered campaign committee that reported expenditures to Aegis Strategic, supported GOP state senatorial candidate Lang Sias, and opposed state senatorial candidate Laura Woods. (Aegis Strategic also worked for the Committee to Elect J. Paul Brown and the Business Opportunity Fund, according to Colorado campaign finance reports.)

A hearing is scheduled, and Arnold, who's not being paid for his work, says he now faces big bad lawyers from Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, who are representing Protect and Defend Colorado.

"It's people playing dirty in primaries. I was a victim of it, when I ran for CU Regent," says Arnold. "So I'm sensitive. When your whole point is to hide behind a proxy server while you're smearing someone, I think that's despicable. If you want to criticize someone, man up and do so publicly, but don't hide behind a shield of anonymity."