In Colorado, efforts to convince a candidate to leave the race may have broken the law

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October 20, 2010

 

A supporter of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes is accusing a well-known political commentator of using improper methods to urge Maes to leave the race.


By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

DENVER, Colorado: It's nothing new to see minor party candidates siphoning off votes from a major nominee. Elections have been split before and will be again. Nor is it newsworthy that politicos will scheme to push an unelectable candidate out of the race in a bid to save the day.

However, it is a twist when the third party man stands a real chance of winning and a major party's candidate is the one in his way. And it is certainly going to make headlines if attempts to coax that candidate into leaving the race violated campaign finance and ethics laws.

In Colorado, where a race once highly favorable to Republicans has descended into a soap opera, accusations of just such dubious behavior are flying. Dan Maes, a businessman and newcomer to politics who rode a wave of Tea Party support to a primary victory, is trailing not only his Democratic opponent but is also well behind a third party candidate. He has seen open letters and a storm of public statements calling on him to abandon his campaign. Yet Maes is tenaciously still in the race and new allegations suggest that the tactics to get him out of the race are decidedly unsavory.

At the core of the debate is an argument over whether representatives of Maes' camp solicited compensation for Maes to leave the race of whether it was someone outside the campaign who initiated contact and offered something in return for Maes' exit. Also being questioned is how much, and at what point, Maes himself knew about the conversations.

In late July, with GOP favorite Scott McInnis embroiled in plagiarism scandals, Tea Party-backed upstart Dan Maes became the presumptive nominee. Maes, however, had campaign finance inconsistencies of his own to deal with and was beginning to give people the idea he wasn't quite equal to the task of a major party run for high office.

Tom Tancredo, a former Republican Congressman whose name had briefly been touted as a 2010 gubernatorial possibility, began to call for Maes to get out. Instead, Maes stayed in and barely won the GOP primary. Tancredo's next move was to switch his own party affiliation to the American Constitution Party and enter the race.

Since then, he has survived a lawsuit challenging the legality of his candidacy and is now polling within the margin of error of the Democratic nominee, John Hickenlooper, the markedly left-leaning mayor of Denver.

Dan Maes, meanwhile, has written a $17,500 check to the Secretary of State for fines related to campaign-finance violations and has been under fire for allegedly padding his resume. His own fundraising is in tatters and polls suggest he may not even take 10% on Election Day. Tea Party leaders in Colorado have expressed buyer's remorse and the big names once supporting Maes are now putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the Republican candidate. On October 18, the state Senator who formally nominated Mases at the GOP's spring convention publicly pulled his support.[1]

Tancredo has become the de factor Republican nominee in the eyes of many Colorado political observers and he is putting up numbers – both in polling and fundraising – to suggest he could pull of an Election Night miracle. However, Dan Maes still has a hard core band of supporters and will draw some votes from people who will automatically support the Republican.

One such supporter, Josh Harrington, is claiming he was approached about a deal to get Maes out of the race in return for some financial compensation.[2] Above and beyond ethical considerations, it is expressly banned under Colorado law to offer a candidate anything of value in order to get him to end his campaign. Harrington, the same man who filed a lawsuit in an attempt to have Tancredo's candidacy declared illegal and shut down, told the Denver Post he was approached by two GOP county chairs and a popular political blogger about a deal involving, “a wealthy donor setting up a nonprofit foundation if Maes were to leave the race.”[3]

Ross Kaminsky, the accused blogger, says it was Harrington who approached him and who suggested the deal in early October. Kaminsky did confirm that he and Harrington had been having an email conversation about what it would take for Harrington to switch his support to Tom Tancredo.[4] He claims Harrington's stated conditions included Maes being named as Tancredo's running mate and getting to name at least two members of the governor's cabinet.

Kaminsky says he then contacted someone “close to Tom” with the idea. According to Kaminsky, the man he spoke to told him, “Look, I'm not involving Tom in the conversation, but I've heard this idea about some kind of commission, not a government paid-job but something that would be funded with private money.” He says he then contacted Harrington about the possibility of a job on a commission of some sort. It was at this point, according to Kaminsky, that he said he was unsure about the legality of any deal and wanted to consult an election lawyer.

Around this time, on October 7, news came out that Tancredo and Maws had privately met and had both declined to leave the race. After that point, Kaminsky says he and Harrington had no further contact on the topic.

Harrington first posted an item on his FaceBook page on October 19 detailing the allegations.[5] He declined to identify the GOP county chairs he says were involved and only mentioned a “blogger” who has approached him. Kaminsky outed himself as the blogger and produced the string of emails, something he says he did to correct Harrington's inaccuracy.[6] Kaminsky has also published the original emails and posted the timeline of what he says happened on his blog at Rossputin.

Harrington also declined to say who was going to fund the “commission”. Aside from saying that it was to be a 501(c)(4) foundation that the Maes had turned down the offer, Harrington offered no specifics about the arrangement.

A second blogger, Ben DeGrow, posted emails he was in possession of suggesting that Kaminsky was not the only person Harrington had approached about a deal for Maes to leave the race.[7] The email DeGrow posted suggests that one of GOP county chairs involved was John Ransom, former chair of Douglas County's Republican Party. The county, part of Denver's southern suburbs, is a Republican stronghold. Harrington himself also stated, in an interview with talk radio host Peter Boyle, that he had talked to multiple people about opportunities for Maes in a Tancredo administration[8] At 34:30 in the interview, Harrington comments, ““I reached out to several people and said ‘Is there a way to merge the campaigns somehow?’…”

There is a legal violation if any kind of financially valuable opportunity conditional on Maes leaving the race was solicited or offered. Colorado state law reads, "No person shall offer or give any candidate or candidate committee any money or any other thing of value for the purpose of encouraging the withdrawal of the candidate's candidacy, nor shall any candidate offer to withdraw a candidacy in return for money or any other thing of value."

As it is illegal both to offer remuneration to a candidate to leave the race and for a candidate to solicit compensation for ending a campaign, it matters gravely what side originated the alleged offer.

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