The redistricting process in Colorado is much different in 2021 than it was 10 years earlier because of Amendments Y&Z, which created an “independent” redistricting process for redrawing both Congressional and legislative district boundaries. Many of the political players have remained the same, however, and the Republican operatives working on redistricting have already managed to get themselves into a serious legal and ethical mess.
As Evan Wyloge reported on Tuesday for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman:
A complaint filed today with the Colorado Secretary of State accuses a group of secretly-funded political operatives of illegally lobbying the state’s redistricting commissioners.
The complaint, filed by former Democratic state lawmaker Stanley Matsunaka, accuses former Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty and former Colorado House and Senate member Greg Brophy, both Republicans, of lobbying the state’s independent redistricting commissioners, without formally registering as lobbyists. It also accuses Republican political consultant Alan Philp, along with McNulty and Brophy, of failing to report payment for lobbying activity.
All three are paid by a 501c4 nonprofit group called Colorado Neighborhood Coalition to work on redistricting. Because of the 501c4 status of the group, it’s not required to disclose where the group’s money came from. When 501c4 nonprofit groups spend in elections, they’re called “dark money” groups.
Former House Speaker Frank McNulty — who sometimes pretends to be some sort of ethics watchdog — was one of the main characters in the 2011 redistricting drama, as was former State Sen. Greg Brophy. Longtime Republican political consultant Alan Philp has been one of the GOP’s chief redistricting strategists since 2001. The gang is back together in 2021, working for the “Colorado Neighborhood Coalition” (CNC) and seem to be treating the lobbying rules with complete indifference — as well as the same lack of seriousness and subtlety that drove policy decisions when they were in the legislature.
The 2018 changes that voters approved (Amendments Y&Z) were, in part, supposed to make the redistricting process more transparent to the public. One of the key provisions required ANYONE who lobbies the independent redistricting commissioners to register and report that activity with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. But of the three GOP consultants listed earlier, only Philp has formally registered as a redistricting lobbyist, and even then he has only reported receiving $2,000 from CNC since April.
As Wyloge reports, there are plenty of public records and other examples of McNulty, Brophy, and Philp working hard to influence redistricting commissioners privately and at public hearings held around the state over the last couple of months. McNulty responded to the complaint in Wyloge’s story by predictably playing the victim card, saying “This is just another attempt by partisan Democrats to suppress involvement in a public process.”
This is a weak response from McNulty that was previously contradicted by his pal Brophy. In July, Wyloge wrote about concerns regarding illegal lobbying on redistricting and caught Brophy changing his story:
“I am being paid by Colorado Neighborhood Coalition, but I’m not lobbying,” Brophy said of his work for the organization. “I don’t have any communications with the commissioners about the maps they’re drawing. I don’t do that.”
But that’s NOT what Brophy was saying a few months earlier, as Wyloge notes later:
In March, Brophy appeared on a YouTube talk show run by Action 22, an association of rural counties in southern Colorado, where he promoted “two almost exclusively rural districts,” and said he saw Action 22 as a clearinghouse for promoting those ideas.
Action 22, along with two other rural county associations, submitted a map with two rural districts, like Brophy and Gardner had promoted, and the submission was integrated into the preliminary draft congressional maps now being toured around the state, the commissions’ staff has said.
“I’m encouraging people to participate. I’m calling it grassroots organizing,” Brophy said. “Maybe this will get me a visit with my friends on the ethics committee. Who knows.” [Pols emphasis]
The redistricting shenanigans of McNulty, Brophy, and Philp were also revealed by Republican State Rep. Matt Soper in a “training video” he conducted in July. Wyloge wrote about the Soper video for Colorado Politics, as did other media outlets.
Here’s what The Colorado Sun reported in its “Unaffiliated” newsletter on August 20:
Soper was caught criticizing the preliminary legislative maps and giving talking points to local activists during a July 18 virtual meeting with a group of conservative Western Slope activists. Video of the meeting was circulated to a number of media outlets this week.
Soper pointed out several issues he has with the proposed House map, which draws him and Montrose Republican Rep. Marc Catlin in the same district, and New Castle GOP Rep. Perry Will out of his current district. Soper also objected to a new division of Delta and Mesa counties, and argued the new configuration would make it harder for a Republican to win.
“I’m going to tell you this, but I never want you to mention that you heard this coming from me,” Soper said, before giving activists additional talking points. “I’ve heard over and over again, they don’t want to hear from incumbents … all of us are relying on everyone on this call to make the arguments we can’t make.”
Delta County Republicans were told by GOP officials to “take one for the team,” Soper said during the virtual meeting. “That was just a slap in the face. And it really just shows we’re a divided Republican Party as well.” [Pols emphasis]
First of all, Soper SHOULD have been smart enough to understand that nothing good ever comes after any sentence that begins with You didn’t hear this from me, but… That wasn’t the only mistake Soper made, however. As Wyloge reported last week:
In the video, Soper also told the training participants that a set of high-profile lobbyists who work for an organization whose donors are secret have been advocating for the GOP lawmakers’ interests, even though the group’s representatives have said they aren’t working for Republicans.
“The Colorado Republican Party, the House Republicans and Senate Republicans hired Alan Philp, Greg Brophy and Frank McNulty to represent our interests,” Soper told the training participants. [Pols emphasis]
Yeah…you definitely weren’t supposed to say that out loud, Rep. Soper.
McNulty, Brophy, and Philp all denied that they were trying to influence the redistricting process on the behalf of Colorado Republicans, with Philp going so far as to claim “I don’t know Matt Soper.”
The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions are expected to release new draft district maps in early September. All of this partisan posturing from Republicans will likely (and rightly) cause both nonpartisan staff and commissioners to worry about the appearance of being inappropriately swayed by undisclosed Republican lobbying efforts. The oddest part of what McNulty, Philp, and Brophy were doing was peacocking as some sort of warriors for fairness and neutrality. Everybody with a casual knowledge of Colorado political history for the past two decades knows that McNulty and Philp are hired precisely to stack redistricting plans in favor of the Republicans. It’s laughable for them to pretend otherwise.
You might recall that the entire redistricting process got off to a questionable start in March when Republican Danny Moore was elected as the Chair of the Congressional redistricting committee after failing to mention that he was a full-on election fraud truther. Moore was quickly removed as Chair in a unanimous vote by the independent redistricting commission, but the incident cast the entire process in a partisan light that everyone involved had hoped to avoid.
The antics of Soper, McNulty, Brophy, and Philp are shining a new light on blatant Republican interference in the redistricting process, contrary to the rules laid out in Amendments Y&Z…and at precisely the wrong time for the GOP.