Walker Stapleton Works the Loopholes

dealinwalkerfinState Treasurer Walker Stapleton is a sure bet to run for Governor in 2018, but he won’t make it official anytime soon. As Mark Matthews writes for the Denver Post, Stapleton is holding off on a formal announcement while he drives a bus through a loophole in our campaign finance laws:

The longer Stapleton waits before formally announcing his bid for Colorado’s top job, the more he can help steer unlimited sums of money toward a super PAC-style group that is expected to provide his artillery during the campaign.

It’s a setup that watchdogs said could stretch the limits of Colorado election law, even as it projects Stapleton’s fundraising might — particularly toward his rivals in the GOP primary…

…The upcoming Aug. 21 fundraiser for Stapleton will be held at the Cherry Hills Village home of Republican booster Greg Maffei, and the host committee is a who’s who of the party’s money class, notably beer magnate Pete Coors, Broncos legend John Elway and businessman Larry Mizel, according to a copy of the invitation.

The proceeds, however, won’t go into Stapleton’s campaign fund — as he doesn’t have one yet.

Instead, the windfall will be routed to an independent expenditure committee called Better Colorado Now, an outfit run by political consultant Andy George, a co-worker of longtime Stapleton adviser Michael Fortney at the Denver-based firm Clear Creek Strategies.

Walker Stapleton

Candidates for Governor in Colorado are limited to max donations of $575 for the Primary Election and $575 for the General Election ($1,150 total). There are NO LIMITS, however, to the amount of money that can be collected by “Better Colorado Now,” an “Independent Expenditure Committee” (IEC) registered with the Colorado Secretary of State.

“Better Colorado Now” lists as its official purpose “to oppose Democrat candidates for Governor,” and as of June 30, the IEC reported $123,000 in contributions. Under state law, Stapleton is permitted to help raise money for the IEC so long as he isn’t an official candidate for Governor. This loophole may face a legal challenge at some point, but for now, Stapleton can be listed as a “special guest” for fundraisers benefitting an “independent” committee that really only exists to promote him.

Weaseling around campaign finance law is nothing new for Stapleton. Earlier this year, Stapleton’s name and face were featured prominently in advertisements for a nonsense group called “U.S. Term Limits.” As we wrote in February:

Some of our longtime readers will remember a previous ad campaign from U.S. Term Limits, a large buy in support of U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer in 2008. Their “Thanks, Bob” ad (which said nothing about term limits) was parodied and laughed at generally in a race Schaffer went on to badly lose, as well as provoking an FEC complaint. But it was a good lesson in the true purpose of the organization–which is to support favored Republican candidates of Howard Rich, a New York real estate developer and member of the board of the much larger right-wing advocacy group the Club for Growth.

With protests related to government…you know, stuff (better for Walker Stapleton to keep that as vague as possible) raging throughout the land, we can understand why this “grasstops” organization run by and for well-heeled Republicans is trying to insert itself in the action. Once the organization’s true motives are unpacked, though, it’s pretty easy to understand that this is a cynical campaign vehicle–funded by a New York billionaire to support George and Jeb Bush’s cousin’s political ambitions.

Stapleton may not be breaking campaign finance laws with these stunts, but he’s certainly thumbing his nose at the spirit of contribution limits. That’s Walker Stapleton, buddy!

Mueller Calls Grand Jury in Trump Russia Investigation

Robert Mueller

Big news this afternoon, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase, according to people familiar with the matter.

The full WSJ story is behind a paywall, so here’s more from CNN:

The move would signal a new step in the investigation, which Trump has lambasted as a “witch hunt.” Trump has denied any collusion between his team and the Russians. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia attempted to sway the presidential contest in Trump’s favor.

As CNN also reports todayRobert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is expanding to include questions of financial ties between Trump and Russia:

Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said…

…The increased financial focus hasn’t gone unnoticed by Trump, who warned Mueller, via an interview with The New York Times, that his financial dealings were a red line that investigators shouldn’t cross. But the order establishing the special counsel makes clearMueller is authorized to investigate any matters that “arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

We’re probably nowhere close to a conclusion to this investigation, but this is not good news for the White House.

Want To Question Cory Gardner? Head For Durango–Now

Sen. Cory Gardner (R), hiding behind people.

A press advisory a short while ago announced a bonafide public town hall meeting tomorrow afternoon with the elusive Sen. Cory Gardner–in the city of Durango in the far southwest corner of the state, about six hours’ drive time from Denver. Gardner will appear with Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Michael Bennet, and Rep. Scott Tipton, although it’s not as newsworthy an event for any of them:

Gov. John Hickenlooper, along with Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and Rep. Scott Tipton, will hold a town hall following their visit with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and tour of the Gold King Mine. They, along with representatives from the EPA, will provide an update of their meeting and take questions from attendees.

Durango Town Hall

WHO: Gov. John Hickenlooper
Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet
Rep. Scott Tipton
Durango Mayor Dick White & La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake will moderate.

WHERE: La Plata County Administration Building Board Room
1101 E. 2nd Ave.
Durango, CO 81301

WHEN: Friday, Aug. 4, 2017
2:15 p.m. — 3:00 p.m.

Doors open to the public and media at 1:45 p.m.

If it goes ahead as announced, this will be the first public town hall meeting for Senator Gardner in 494 days. The lack of advance notice and remote location of the event — not to mention the 45 minute time period — are potent reminders of how difficult it is for constituents to interact with Sen. Gardner, and won’t do anything to appease his critics in more populated areas of the state. With that said, Durango has plenty of homegrown Gardner critics who will line up for this chance to hold him accountable.

On the other hand if these other politicians, for whom public town hall meetings are not the same kind of problem, were to throw their own town hall without Gardner after they all toured the Gold King Mine cleanup site together…well, that would look pretty bad too. We’re inclined doubt this town hall was Gardner’s idea, and there may have simply been no good option other than to take his lumps.

Either way, if you see a miles-long convoy of Subarus, Priuses and VW buses rolling west on US-160 tonight and tomorrow morning, this is probably why.

Recess! Senate Wraps Up Unproductive First Six Months

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says “peace out” for the summer.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is letting the kids go out for recess until after Labor Day. From CBS News:

The Senate is slated to go on recess for the rest of August on Thursday and not return to Washington until early September.

The Senate Press Gallery tweeted that the votes the upper chamber took Thursday afternoon were the last of the day and of the month.

An aide to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said leadership still needs to nail down some nominations, but they almost certainly likely to leave by the end of Thursday.

As the Washington Post notes, this was not the summer ending that McConnell had planned:

Soon after Memorial Day, McConnell (R-Ky.) drew up a game plan around approving a rewrite of the Affordable Care Act by the end of June. The benefits were twofold, providing House Republicans a few weeks to approve the Senate version and send it to President Trump.

Also, McConnell wanted to create separation between the conclusion of the health-care debate and the start of the annual August recess, providing the month of July to wrack up victories on other legislative matters. Such wins would give some Senate Republicans, wary of tackling the health-care issue back home, something else to tout with their voters.

Instead, everything got consumed by the health-care storm, which culminated in the bill failing by a single vote last week. The Senate plans to leave town Thursday for a five-week break with no major legislative accomplishments to show for the first seven months of unified Republican control of Congress and the White House. [Pols emphasis]

The calendar is already packed for the post-Labor Day session, with most of the schedule dedicated to approving funding for federal agencies and to discuss a potential raising of the debt ceiling.

Thursday Open Thread

“Those whose character is mean and vicious will rouse others to animosity against them.”

–Xun Kuang

Nobody is Really Calling President Trump

Every day just gets weirder and weirder with this White House. As CNN reports:

In President Donald Trump’s telling, officials from Mexico City to Boy Scouts headquarters are lighting up his phone line with praise.

In the leaders’ telling, though, the calls never happened — and the White House has belatedly agreed…

…On Wednesday, the White House responded to questions about the calls with the same answer: the conversations actually took place in person.

“I wouldn’t say it was a lie. That’s a pretty bold accusation,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at the White House. “The conversations took place, they just simply didn’t take place over a phone call.” [Pols emphasis]

Her answer came after both the Mexican government and the Boy Scouts contradicted Trump’s claims that he took calls from their leaders.

We just spent 20 minutes talking to President Trump on the telephone, and he didn’t mention anything about this. We’ll just have to call him back.

Yes Virginia, Republicans Could Lose The House

As The Hill reports, a combination of historical trends and unprecedented White House chaos is making the prospect of large gains by Democrats in the U.S. House increasingly likely, to the point flipping control of the chamber and potentially then some:

Democrats are feeling encouraged about their prospects of winning back the House next year despite a string of special election losses.

A turbulent White House has left President Trump’s approval rating at a dismal 40 percent, and Democrats ended the House session watching the ObamaCare repeal effort collapse in the Senate.

“There are a lot of reasons to think that the House will be in play next year,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election handicapper at the University of Virginia…

Midterm elections for first-term presidents are historically ruinous for the party that controls the White House.

By Sabato’s analysis, the president’s party has shed House seats in 36 of 39 midterms stretching back more than 150 years, with an average loss of 33 seats — well above the 24 pickups the Democrats need to take the chamber next year. [Pols emphasis]

President Barack Obama’s first midterm election in 2010 was an historic disaster for the Democratic Party, losing 63 seats in the House and setting themselves up to lose the U.S. Senate majority four years later. By comparison, the 2018 landscape features an opposing electorate to the party in power every bit as fired up as the “Tea Party” was going into 2010–and a President who popularity has fallen farther and faster than any other President in modern history. As the next election looms larger on the horizon, the GOP’s failure to get anything meaningful accomplished despite total control of the federal government is escalating into a full-blown crisis.

The recent special election in Georgia illustrates the problem Republicans face well. Although the GOP retained the seat, their margin of victory plunged to an extent that, if it were to hold true elsewhere, would result in massive defeats for Republican House candidates all over the country. It’s by no means a certainty that this is how it will play out, and Democrats have a lot of work to do to win back the electorate–and yes, that’s more than just being against Donald Trump. Articulating a positive case for the Democratic agenda, something we haven’t seen in American politics since Democrats lost their majorities in Congress, is what everybody seems to agree is their key to success in the next election.

But undeniably, the wind is now at Team Blue’s back.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (August 2)

Always stretch your brain prior to thinking. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

President Trump signed his name to legislation dealing with sanctions on Russia, but he isn’t happy about it. As the Washington Post reports:

President Trump has signed a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia, ending immediate hopes of a reset of U.S. relations with the Kremlin and marking a defeat for his administration, which had expressed concerns that the legislation infringed upon executive power.

In a statement outlining his concerns, Trump called the bill “seriously flawed,” primarily because it limits his ability to negotiate sanctions without congressional approval.

“By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President.”

“This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice,” he added.

White House officials said that the president signed the measure on Wednesday morning, nearly a week after it was passed by the Senate with a veto-proof majority. The bill was also approved in the House last week by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

It is entirely possible that Trump just signed the bill because he is so desperate to put pen to paper on something from Congress. This only furthers our belief that Trump would sign a napkin if you put it in on his desk.

 

► Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) held a town hall meeting in Henderson, Colo. on Tuesday night. As CPR reports, Coffman’s staff patted itself on the back for not throwing constituents out of the event:

At the end of an hour of taking questions, Coffman’s press assistant tried to end the town hall. The congressman waved him off and said he wanted to keep going. An aide said after it was over that no one was kicked out, despite strict rules on being considerate. [Pols emphasis]

Congratulations to Mike Coffman’s office for not removing constituents from a public venue where they were invited to discuss issues with their elected Representative! The Associated Press and the Denver Post have more on Coffman’s town hall meeting, in which healthcare continued to be the prime topic on the minds of voters.

Elsewhere, Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) is holding a town hall meeting…nah, just kidding. But Gardner is doing another telephone town hall tonight. Here’s how to sign up for the call.

 

► The White House is acknowledging that President Trump “weighed in” on a statement from his sonDonald Trump, Jr., related to a controversial meeting with Russian bigwigs last July. This comes after a Washington Post story that the President himself dictated the entire statement while traveling on Air Force One. As Paul Waldman writes in a separate story for the Washington Post, Trump appears to have directly implicated himself in allegations that his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

Hick/Kasich 2020, Anyone?

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

A note in Politico playbook throws Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper a bit of favorable 2020 speculation, either as a presidential candidate or running against embattled Sen. Cory Gardner–thought probably not the article’s teaser:

SOME NEWS — We asked COLORADO GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER during a Playbook Exchange event here if he would run for the White House on a ticket with OHIO REPUBLICAN GOV. JOHN KASICH. He said: “I don’t think Kasich would ever do that … You never know. You never say. He’s an easy person to work with. He’s strongly opinionated. And quick to his opinion. But he also knows as much about the federal budget, and understands health care at a deeper level than almost any other governor I know. … I don’t think it’s in the cards. But I do like the idea of working with him in some context at some point.” The governor told us Trump has told him he’s taken notice of his appearances on TV.

— WILL HICKENLOOPER RUN AGAINST SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-COLO.)? He said he was “disappointed” with Gardner’s stance on health care. “That’s not the Cory Gardner I thought I knew.” Hickenlooper said he is “not ruling anything out.” When asked what he thinks about when he considers running for a seat in Washington, Hickenlooper joked, “I think why me? What did I do to hurt you?”

As readers know, Gov. Hickenlooper and moderate GOP Gov. John Kasich have joined forces gainfully to fight back against the GOP’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In Hickenlooper’s case, that puts him squarely on the opposite side of Sen. Gardner, who is now indelibly linked to those repeal attempts after (allegedly) participating in the drafting of the bill and voting for every iteration presented to him.

In terms of Hickenlooper’s next move after leaving the governor’s office next year, there is growing talk about him mounting a run for the U.S. Senate against Gardner, which is a more attainable prospect than the much bigger gamble of running for President. That race would pit two of Colorado’s most successful politicians against each other, both presumably looking to win on a hopeful and positive campaign–Hickenlooper’s specialty, and also a strategy that proved effective for Gardner in 2014. That alone would make this a fascinating race to watch.

Hickenlooper’s not “ruling anything out,” and you certainly shouldn’t either.

The Get More Smarter Show: July 31, 2017

TUESDAY UPDATE: This episode of the Get More Smarter Show makes some local news, via Ernest Luning:

Republican gubernatorial candiate Victor Mitchell says he’s often called the “nice Donald Trump” in a video interview posted online Monday, but also says he’ll decline to campaign with Trump in Colorado if he wins the GOP nomination next year.

“No,” Mitchell tells host Jason Bane of the Colorado Pols political website. “No thanks. Donald Trump and I agree on many issues, but his style and temperament are different than mine. At the end of the day, I really love Colorado, and I think it would be insincere to have him come out and campaign for me. I’d want to put Colorado first on everything I do.”

Earlier in the episode of the website’s “Get More Smarter Show,” Mitchell acknowledges it could be an issue for some GOP primary voters that he voted for independent presidential candidate  Evan McMullin last year instead of casting a ballot for Trump but suggests it won’t be consequential.

“The Republican primary voters still like Donald Trump,” Mitchell says about 15 minutes into the 25-minute interview. “I get called all the time a ‘nice Donald Trump.’”

—–

Today on the Get More Smarter Show: HISTORY IS MADE with our first-ever interview with a Republican gubernatorial candidate, entrepreneur and former state Rep. Victor Mitchell! Jason Bane and Mitchell talk about Mitchell’s background, why he’s running for governor, and why people call him a “nice Donald Trump“–even though he says he won’t campaign with Trump as the GOP nominee.

We apologize for the overexposed video, it was our first use of a new camera and…well, we’re a blog, not CNN.

Catch up on previous Get More Smarter Show episodes here! And thanks for watching.

Ambassador Big Shot Pisses on Locals, Asks For Your Vote

Ambassador Baer “bigfoots” CD-7.

Something like this seems to happen almost every year, as the Denver Post’s John Frank reports:

A former ambassador appointed by President Barack Obama is entering the already crowded Democratic contest for the open 7th Congressional District seat.

Dan Baer, the former ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will announce his candidacy Tuesday for the post being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter.

Baer, a 40-year-old Colorado native, was one of a handful of openly gay ambassadors nominated by the Democratic president. He said Donald Trump’s election pushed him to make his first bid for public office.

Okay, that’s pretty interesting. Dan Baer’s diplomatic record and Oxford/Harvard pedigree obviously elevate his standing over some other guy with the same name who we’ve also never heard of that might want to run for Congress. We don’t know this person but we of course respect the paper.

But then, as Baer continues regarding the three local Democrats already running for the seat:

“I think they’ve all been successful local politicians, but what I hear from people as I talk to them is that they are fed up, they want something different,” he said. [Pols emphasis] “And as bad as this moment is for many of us … people are ready for the opportunity to send fresh voices and new perspectives to Washington.”

Okay, full stop. There are two Colorado state senators and one state representative running in the Democratic CD-7 primary, and all three of them have worked harder to represent their constituents–for peanuts, we might add–than this guy has worked in his life. They’ve established strong bases of support in this district from years of representing parts of it. It’s really quite arrogant to the local party functionaries and volunteers who have known and worked with these candidates for years to have some outsider just appear out of nowhere and declare them all yesterday’s news. That’s not going to ingratiate potential supporters, and we expect Baer will learn that the hard way.

Beyond that, there’s this fairly important thing we in politics call “campaigning,” which involves quaint practices like raising money and knocking on doors! Ambassador Baer might want to learn how to do that stuff, in a hurry, since those “local politicians” are, you know, pretty experienced. That’s why they feel up to the job.

Look, if Baer manages to demonstrate that he’s someone with the political skills to effectively campaign for and represent CD-7 in Congress, he’s a welcome addition to the race. But the political graveyard is full of out-of-work overachievers who parachute into their hometowns to rekindle lost glory. Especially when they’re jerks about it.

Trumpcare: Let’s Try Again–And Again, And Again…

Zombie Trumpcare.

Politico reports on the latest undead proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act circulating among U.S. Senate Republicans, this one courtesy Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Call ’em gluttons for punishment:

Senate Republicans couldn’t agree on a way to repeal and replace Obamacare. So now they’re contemplating a totally different approach: Blow it up and let the states sort it out.

The latest attempt to resuscitate the GOP’s repeal bid would reshape the nation’s health care system by sharply curtailing the federal government’s role and placing the future of Obamacare in the hands of governors. But Republican senators will have a hard time overcoming the internal divisions that doomed their three attempts last week to unravel the Affordable Care Act…

The so-called Graham-Cassidy plan would still force deep health spending cuts, as well as set new limits that would end Medicaid’s open-ended entitlement status and threaten subsidies designed to help people afford coverage. Each element could raise objections from moderate GOP senators. That comes on top of keeping nearly all of Obamacare’s taxes, a likely deal-breaker for conservatives still intent on scrapping the entire law.

We’re obliged to mention this latest highly unlikely attempt to pass an Obamacare repeal bill for two reasons: first that it exists, and second because based on experience Sen. Cory Gardner would likely vote for it like he did every version of Obamacare repeal that came up for a vote this last round. But beyond that it’s very difficult to see this latest grab-bag of contradictions going anywhere, since it doesn’t really do anything to bring the intractably opposed Republicans in this debate together.

With the exception of President Donald Trump and far-right diehards who don’t know when to quit, repealing the Affordable Care Act is fast becoming a subject Republicans only want to change.

Donna Lynne is Kinda Sorta Maybe Running for Governor

As the Denver Post reports, Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne says that she is almost totally running for Governor:

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne just took a big step toward running for governor, telling The Denver Post that she would file the necessary paperwork Tuesday to campaign and raise money even though she still hasn’t committed 100 percent toward pursuing Colorado’s top job.

It’s an unusual maneuver — and one that could complicate her plans to succeed her boss, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. Normally candidates spend weeks preparing for these kinds of announcements and when they do it’s with less equivocation. [Pols emphasis]

But Lynne has decided to back into a race that’s already overwhelmed with both Democratic and Republican candidates, including a field of primary opponents that includes Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and former state Sen. Mike Johnston.

Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne

There have been rumors for months that Lynne wanted to make a bid for the top job in the state, though there has not been much mutual interest among Democrats in Colorado. Lynne acknowledged as much in her interview with the Post, saying that she is not “100%” committed to running for Governor because she’s not sure anyone really wants her to try:

Lynne said she’s taking this route for two principal reasons: to be upfront about her intentions as she continues her job as lieutenant governor, and to ensure she can consolidate the necessary support to mount a competitive campaign.

She added that she would make a final decision before the first week of September.

Let’s not overcomplicate this — if you’re not sure that you would have the support to mount a strong statewide campaign, then you don’t have the support to mount a strong statewide campaign.

Lynne faces significant hurdles in mounting a bid for the Democratic nomination for Governor, not the least of which is the fact that she — and Gov. John Hickenlooper —promised that Lynne would NOT run for Governor when she was appointed to the LG post in March 2016. Lynne apparently has an answer to that question — though not a very good one:

She said her time in office, however, has convinced her to take a greater role, and that it wouldn’t be a concern for Hickenlooper.

“One of the first things I did was that I asked the governor: ‘Do you feel that you asked me not to run?’ and he said ‘I never asked you not to run. What I did was express a preference for A) somebody from the private sector and B) somebody who didn’t have political aspiration,” she said. 

“I think you’ll hear him consistently say he actually thinks this (pursuit) is a good thing,” she said. [Pols emphasis]

Yeah, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense for Lynne to be thinking of running for Governor, and Lynne’s tepid “announcement” seems to indicate that she is well aware of this fact.