Before the effort to recall Mike McLachlan failed, it seemed financially to be an unfussy, local affair: The group behind the recall, San Juan Basin Freedom Committee, had raised about $4,000, and Citizens for Mike McLachlan, the group defending McLachlan, had raised about $5,000, almost all of it from people in the district.
But one donation on Citizens for Mike McLachlans most recent campaign-finance report, which was filed after the recall effort failed, stands out like a skyscraper: $30,000 from America Votes Action Fund, a major liberal super PAC based in Washington, D.C.
America Votes is just one of many out-of-state groups showering money on Colorado Democrats besieged by recall efforts.
David Saleh, director of San Juan Freedom Basin Committee, said the money McLachlan raised really had no effect on our recall.
But its worth noting that we made a concerted effort to ensure that the recall effort was entirely grass-roots, just people from the district who think he doesnt represent us, whereas he is being supported and richly funded by out-of-state groups.
McLachlan did not return calls seeking comment.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said recall efforts such as the one against McLachlan are inappropriate and costly. He also noted that grass-roots recall efforts, such as the one in House District 59, arent the ones getting traction. The effort to recall Senate President John Morse in Colorado Springs serves as an example: There, the recall effort spent thousands of dollars to hire a professional outfit to collect signatures. The investment paid off: Last week, it submitted 16,000 unvalidated signatures to the Secretary of States Office, or double the signatures necessary to trigger a recall election.Saleh said he was dismayed by the outsize influence of money on the recall efforts. He called for campaign-finance reform.
Having some outside help from some of these groups that supposedly side with us would have been nice because thats the way the system works Im not saying I like it, but thats the way the laws are.Experts say the big checks cut from out-of-state entities speak to the chilling symbolism of successful recall attempts: Much like the old head on a pike tactics used on the roads of medieval England, when recalls succeed, their backers can hold up the political heads of politicians who voted for gun-control to frighten others.
But recalls are a high-wire act. The staggering majority fail, and according to Rich Coolidge, communications director for the secretary of state, when they do, they effectually can insulate the candidates who beat them, like McLachlan.
Floyd Ciruli, a noted Colorado pollster and consultant, said the influxes of out-of-state money into districts such as House District 59, which arent usually in the limelight, represent a new phenomenon: the nationalization of the gun-control debate.
Right now, Colorado is the epicenter of political challenges, so I think a lot of people are watching what happens here, he said.
Owen Loftus, spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party, said the out-of-state money amounted to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Vice President Joe Biden telling Colorado voters how to vote, and they dont appreciate that.
Ciruli said the out-of-state money argument had bite.
But the big money from groups such as America Votes should encourage Democrats fighting recalls.
Obviously, these elections have taken on national significance, and these groups want to show you that if you vote for this, theyll protect you, he said.
Ciruli said McLachlan likely would benefit in the long run from beating the recall, and as of now, he has bragging rights.
I do think, however, that all the opponents need is one candidate, and while they are somewhat embarrassed by what happened in Durango, it looks like the Colorado Springs recall is likely to succeed.
If taxpayers arent galled by the money big out-of-state groups are funneling into recall efforts, Palacio, the Colorado Democratic chairman, said they would be incensed by the cost of recall elections. Recalls should only be used when you have a lawmaker who has committed an egregious act ethical violations or criminal violations, he said, whereas groups behind the recall efforts were attempting to relitigate an election because of differences in policy positions. In the meantime, they cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in recall elections.Palacio said the recall effort in House District 59 was very different in its execution from the highly professional one taking place in Colorado Springs to oust Morse. In House District 59, he said, It was really citizens protesting. I think the point was made: They came together, threatened a recall, and they stopped when they realized they didnt have the signatures.
But he said, Its not something that can be done through the grass-roots. It has to be done with some help from the gun lobby, he said.