The Denver Post has a front-page story today about Republicans taking a page from the Democratic playbook and forming their own web of political finances. But there’s a few more pieces that need to be told with this story, because this isn’t the first time Republicans have tried this, and putting the money in place is the easy part.
But first, as the Post reports:
Republican operatives have started duplicating the political fundraising and organizational structure that catapulted state Democrats to power in 2004 and has helped keep them there since.
A PowerPoint presentation obtained by The Denver Post details the formation for Republicans of an outside-the- party umbrella organization called Common Sense Colorado, which hopes to direct $10 million to loosely affiliated conservative political groups.
A network of at least a half-dozen entities has taken shape in the past 16 months. And while there are no records with the secretary of state’s office showing what they’ve raised so far, the presentation puts that total at $702,000 from a handful of corporate and industry donors, with prospects for $8.8 million.
The documents describe a “formal structure that controls all soft money efforts in Colorado” that’s overseen by “political managers, business executives and attorneys to ensure full compliance.”…
…Republicans were stunned in 2004 – a banner year for the GOP in the presidential election and elsewhere – when Colorado Democrats took back control of the state House and Senate for the first time in more than four decades.
Two years later, Democrat Bill Ritter reclaimed the governor’s mansion for his party, giving the Democrats control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature for the first time in nearly half a century.
Then, just before the 2008 election, the liberals’ model came to light [Pols emphasis], revealing a scheme where a high-powered board directed millions to a network of advocacy, get-out-the-vote, outreach and media groups. In 2006, the Democratic alliance marshaled at least $16 million to a web of 37 diffuse organizations, records show.
The Democrats’ funding effort that has been called “The Colorado Model” was certainly well-organized and well-executed, but it also didn’t remain a secret for as long as the Post story indicates. Republicans figured out what Democrats had done not long after the end of the 2004 election, and they were trying to do the same thing by 2006 with The Trailhead Group.
Republicans made similar efforts to set up “c4” and “527” organizations to distribute money again in 2008, but they failed then for the same reason they failed in 2006. Moving money around into different committees isn’t rocket science; the hard part is in the strategy, targeting and messaging.
In 2006, Trailhead was created to raise and spend money for candidates in the legislature and for Bob Beauprez’s campaign for Governor (just like today’s Post story says the GOP is planning for 2010). But Trailhead and other entities did a terrible job of deciding where to spend their money, often leaving state legislative candidates out to dry in favor of increased spending on the Governor’s race. Rather than focusing their money on a handful of key winnable races, Trailhead spent money willy-nilly, diffusing their resources and never really giving enough to the candidates that were close to winning their races. For example, Trailhead spent tens of thousands of dollars attacking then-Rep. Buffie McFadyen, but Republicans really didn’t have a chance to beat her that year; had they spent that money instead on someone like Lew Entz, it might have done more good.
The other problem that Republicans have in all of this is that the right-wing of the Party still plays a huge role in Primary elections. A perfect example of this is playing out right now in SD-6, where Republican Dean Boehler won top-line status at the GOP assembly over Rep. Ellen Roberts for the right to take on incumbent Democrat Sen. Bruce Whitehead. There’s little question that Roberts, as the more well-known and moderate candidate, is the stronger choice in a general election here, but Boehler may very well win the Primary. The GOP may end up having to spend a lot more money than they wanted to spend if Boehler is the candidate than if Roberts makes it to the General election.
Republicans may be busy organizing their various financial resources into neat little committees and organizations, but any knucklehead can open up a 527 or c4 account. None of this will matter if Republicans can’t come up with the right general election candidates and figure out a clear, cohesive strategy for targeting winnable seats. They’ve had the money before — they still need to show that they know what to do with it.