The contentious campaign for Council District 1 took a nasty turn this week, as flyers attacking incumbent Tim Leigh were circulated throughout the district.
The flyers, created by a group that calls itself “Citizens for Free and Fair Elections,” claimed that “Tim Leigh has made a mockery of service on Colorado Springs City Council – thumbing his nose at the citizens he’s supposed to represent.” How so? Because the City Ethics Commission “sees reason to explore allegations of personal gain and conflict of interest.”
The flyer also features a picture of a grimacing Leigh, which the puckish council member described as “the single worst picture ever taken of me – in fact, the single worst picture ever taken of anybody in the world.”
Naturally enough, the flyer fails to mention that the allegations were brought forward by the CEO of Neumann Systems Group, which has been frequently taken to task by Leigh in his capacity as a member of the Utilities Board. Leigh has made no secret of his belief that the Neumann contract, which will ultimately cost CSU more than $100 million, was and is a mistake. Leigh’s opposition has been strident, sometimes unfair and possibly 100 percent off the mark – but that doesn’t mean that he behaved unethically.
It’s understandable that Neumann is fighting back. His company, his livelihood and his business reputation are on the line. He’s been entirely open about it. He contributed money to Don Knight, Leigh’s principal opponent in the D-1 race, and Neumann has also contributed to candidates in other districts whom he believes to be reasonable and fair-minded.
“Citizens for Free and Fair Elections” is a so-called 527 – an independent expenditure group that doesn’t have to reveal the names of its contributors. It was apparently created by a Denver law firm, the Hackstaff Group.
According to the firm’s website, “The Hackstaff Law Group is recognized as one of Colorado’s top election law and campaign finance firms. The firm has worked with candidates, parties, outside interest groups, municipalities, and other individuals and groups to achieve electoral success in a wide range of campaigns.
“Attorneys at the firm work with clients through all stages of a campaign, from entity selection and formation to campaign finance compliance and reporting,” the website said. “And if a client is attacked through a legal complaint, the firm provides an unparalleled litigation team with the specialized knowledge and experience to win in court.”
Leigh thinks that Dave Neumann is behind the group, but that seems unlikely. If found out, Neumann and his company would suffer more than reputational damage. As Fouche said of the execution of the Duc d’Enghien, “It was worse than a crime – it was a mistake.”
So who financed it?
Was it political consultant Patrick Davis, whose work often has a notably nasty edge? Probably not – Davis doesn’t lurk in the shadows. He was responsible for, and proud of, the billboards that have appeared around town attacking Leigh, Angela Dougan, Steve Bach and President Barack Obama. If Davis wanted to do a hit piece on Leigh, he’d go right ahead and do it.
Was it Leigh’s opponent Knight? I doubt it – he’s being advised by Sarah Jack, a cold-eyed professional who knows to keep her client absolutely insulated from such shenanigans. Moreover, he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would happily author hit pieces.
It’s easy enough to create this stuff, but getting the funding is a little more difficult: 527 groups can’t advocate directly for candidates, but they can rip someone to shreds as long as they don’t endorse his/her opponent. Hence such flyers/TV ads, which typically exhort voters to “call (target name) at (target’s cell phone number) and tell him to (stop being an evil, un-American person).” Funders want to remain anonymous, especially those who might benefit financially from delegitimizing the target of their attacks.
Will we ever know where the money came from? Actually, 527 groups are under no obligation to file campaign finance reports with the city. We could hire “Anonymous” to hack into Hackstaff’s client records. As President Nixon once said, “We could do it, we could raise the million dollars, but it would be wrong.”
So who has Tim Leigh managed to infuriate during his two short years on Council? Several of his colleagues aren’t particularly happy with him, but they’ve expressed their displeasure by contributing to Knight’s campaign. The HBA supports him, the Business Alliance is staying on the sidelines, and a CSU employee group has endorsed/contributed to his opponent.
Interestingly, the Colorado industry that has most to lose from Leigh’s continuing tenure has so far been invisible in the campaign – the coal business.
If Martin Drake were to close, or if CSU policymakers decided to phase out both coal-fired power plants over the next several years, that would be a matter of serious concern to coal companies. The industry is no stranger to the rough-and-tumble of environmental politics, so it’s certainly conceivable that its political operatives would act through a 527 – but that’s entirely conjectural.
One thing is certain: The laws that permit these groups to operate in the shadows ought to be changed. While reasonable people can disagree about campaign finance limits, corporate contributions, and the vast rivers of money that distort the national political process, full disclosure is supported by all sides of the debate…unless such disclosure harms your interest, your client’s interest, or your political party’s interest.
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