A Rocky Mountain News guest editorial by former Republican state Sen. Mark Hillman analyzing Democrats' success in the November election failed to note that Hillman lost the 2006 state treasurer's race to his Democratic opponent. While also decrying the campaign influence of Democratic "billionaires," the editorial did not mention the Trailhead Group, formed by wealthy GOP backers.
In a December 30 Rocky Mountain News guest editorial by former state Sen. Mark Hillman (R-Burlington) analyzing Colorado Democrats' success in the November election, Hillman identified himself only in passing as a Republican. But neither he nor the News noted that he is a top state Republican who lost the race for state treasurer to Democrat Cary Kennedy and has served in GOP leadership positions in the Colorado legislature. Furthermore, while Hillman attributed Democratic gains in the election partly to "the mega-million-dollar expenditures driven by billionaires Tim Gill and Pat Stryker," he neglected to mention the influence of the Republican-backed Trailhead Group as well as radio ads it ran praising him during his own 2006 campaign. The campaign organization was founded by outgoing Gov. Bill Owens (R), oil multimillionaire and former Colorado Republican Party chairman Bruce Benson, and multimillionaire and 2004 Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pete Coors of the Coors Brewing Company family.
While Hillman alluded to his party affiliation in the guest editorial by stating, "[W]e Republicans shot ourselves in the foot by fumbling the state's fiscal problems in the wake of the 2001-02 recession," Hillman and the News only noted that Hillman "is a wheat farmer from Burlington who served in the Colorado Senate from 1999 to 2005." Both failed to mention that Hillman served as the Senate majority leader and minority leader for the GOP during his tenure in the Colorado legislature. When former state Treasurer Mike Coffman left his post in early 2005 to do a tour of duty in Iraq with the Marine Corps, Owens appointed Hillman to serve as acting treasurer. In the November election, Hillman lost the state treasurer's race to Kennedy, 51 percent to 49 percent.
In his guest editorial, Hillman argued that during the 2006 election, "Colorado Democrats turned the tables with a patient, meticulous strategy -- one that could be exported to many other states." He cited the 2002 passage of Amendment 27 -- which capped campaign contributions and set campaign spending limits -- as beneficial only to Democrats. According to Hillman, Amendment 27 "muzzl[ed] business and empower[ed] labor unions," giving Democrats "a tremendous advantage." Hillman further asserted that "[t]he emergence of" philanthropists Tim Gill and Pat Stryker "and their deep-pocketed allies turned that advantage into a landslide -- particularly as those legendary 'rich Republicans' recoiled from a contest with multimillion-dollar table stakes."
Presumably, Hillman was referring to Gill and Stryker's funding of so-called 527 organizations, which are tax-exempt and can receive unlimited contributions. According to Hillman, Gill and Stryker "led a cadre of leftist ideologues who spent upward of $20 million over the past two election cycles." While attacking Democratic "billionaires," however, Hillman failed to note the role Trailhead Group played in the 2006 election.
(Colorado Media Matters' financial backers include organizations Gill and Stryker support.)
The News reported in a January 9, 2006, article about the Democratic takeover of the state legislature in 2004 that, in order to compete with the fundraising efforts of "wealthy Democrats," Colorado Republicans, who, according to the News, "have been wide awake since that 2004 shocker, have beefed up their efforts, including forming a new '527 committee,' the Trailhead Group, headed by [Alan] Philp." According to a November 18 News analysis of 2006 campaign funding, "Democratic 527 groups had raised $10.8 million, compared with $6.4 million for Republican campaigns."
A May 19, 2006, News article reported that "Republican Pete Coors ... has donated $200,000 to The Trailhead Group, an organization under fire by Democrats for its tactics and its contributor list." According to the News, "Trailhead collected $552,500 in the first three months of this year, with $290,000 coming from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group aimed at getting GOP members elected to legislatures and constitutional offices." The News further reported, "Democrats, including former state party chairman Tim Knaus, blasted Trailhead's donors, noting the group is funded by a large number of oil-and-gas contributors." Other donations to Trailhead disclosed by the News:
- $100,000 from Joel Farkas, a commercial developer and an Owens appointee to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
- $25,000 from Jack Overstreet, an oil and gas executive and an Owens appointee to the Auraria Board of Directors.
- $20,000 from Fred Hamilton, an oil and gas executive.
- $12,500 from Eaton Metal Products, a supplier to oil and gas. Last year, a company called T&C Development, which lists the same address as Eaton, donated $10,000 to Trailhead.
Other reports have noted Trailhead spent money on ads praising Hillman in 2006, when he was running for state treasurer. A March 19, 2006, article in the Denver Post (accessed through the Nexis database) reported, "Trailhead raised $291,000 during the last six months of 2005 and is currently running radio ads that praise [acting] Treasurer Mark Hillman." On March 22, the Post noted, "Hillman wrote a letter condemning the ad bought by Trailhead, the political fundraising group founded by Gov. Bill Owens, oil magnate and GOP fundraiser Bruce Benson and former U.S. Senate candidate Pete Coors."
A March 18, 2006, News column by Peter Blake (accessed through the Nexis database) reported, "Mark Hillman, who's running for state treasurer, got some help from an independent organization this week -- but he says he's not grateful for it." The article explained that Trailhead ran a radio ad praising Hillman for his position on how to manage the state employees' retirement program, but that Hillman publicly claimed he did not endorse Trailhead's effort:
But Hillman issued a release Friday saying that "in no way did I authorize or approve these commercials, nor do I find their partisan tone to be helpful or productive as we work toward our collective goal of resolving the Public Employees' Retirement Association's financial situation." He claimed he's "worked to avoid partisan bickering" as he tries to get consensus reforms approved, and isn't interested in who gets the credit. The radio ad does say it's "not authorized by any candidate or committee." After hearing of Hillman's protest, Trailhead spokesman Alan Philp said, "Mark Hillman is such a modest guy he doesn't want to take a lot of credit for what he's doing at the expense of others."
As Colorado Media Matters has noted (here and here), Colorado Secretary of State Gigi Dennis in August changed campaign finance rules at the urging of lawyers for the Trailhead Group, the Republican Party, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez's campaign. An August 23 Post article reported that Dennis claimed, "The rules I adopted further the intent of transparency and openness the voters asked for with the adoption of Amendment 27."
From the December 30 Rocky Mountain News guest editorial by former Republican state Sen. Mark Hillman:
Most post-election analyses credit the mega-million-dollar expenditures driven by billionaires Tim Gill and Pat Stryker, who led a cadre of leftist ideologues who spent upward of $20 million over the past two election cycles.
That's bad news for Democrats elsewhere who know they can't necessarily find like-minded billionaires in every state. But that analysis is myopic and incomplete.
Colorado Democrats turned the tables with a patient, meticulous strategy -- one that could be exported to many other states.
Even without their wealthy benefactors, Colorado Democrats would be in a far better position today than eight years ago when I was first elected to the Colorado Senate. Then, Republicans had just elected Bill Owens, the first GOP governor in 24 years, controlled the Senate 20-15, ruled the House 40-25, and held both U.S. Senate seats and four of six congressional chairs.
Campaign funding changed dramatically after 2002 when voters, besieged by another season of campaign attack ads, were enticed by the siren song of the "nonpartisan" League of Women Voters and Common Cause to approve limits on campaign contributions.
Proponents cynically complained that "large contributions continue to play a major role in who wins" elections and that spending by labor unions and corporations "influences the political process."
It's no wonder that most voters didn't want to wade through the 4,500 words that Amendment 27 etched into the state constitution, but if they had, they would not be surprised by the results:
- Corporations are prohibited from donating to candidates, but labor unions are allowed to donate 10 times more than ordinary citizens.
- Wealthy ideologues hire attorneys so they can spend millions on attack ads, while regular people abide by the law's strict limits.
- Candidates must spend more time raising money than talking to voters, yet still find themselves outspent 2-to-1 by unaccountable special interests.
By muzzling business and empowering labor unions, Democrats gained a tremendous advantage. The emergence of Gill, Stryker and their deep-pocketed allies turned that advantage into a landslide -- particularly as those legendary "rich Republicans" recoiled from a contest with multimillion-dollar table stakes.
Making matters worse, we Republicans shot ourselves in the foot by fumbling the state's fiscal problems in the wake of the 2001-02 recession.
Mark Hillman is a wheat farmer from Burlington who served in the Colorado Senate from 1999 to 2005.