DENVER – A Virginia-based political consultant who recently pled guilty to coordinating campaign spending between a congressional campaign and a political action committee served as the director of the Colorado Republican Party’s “Super PAC.”
Tyler Harber, 34, pled guilty in Virginia on Feb. 12 to coordinated federal election contributions and to making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the case. Allegations included that he coordinated $325,000 between a Super PAC called the National Republican Victory Fund and the campaign for 2012 Virginia congressional candidate Chris Perkins, a Republican.
Harber was accused of managing Perkins’ campaign while helping to create and direct the National Republican Victory Fund, which spent the $325,000 on attacking Perkins’ rival candidate, Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Democrat. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowed for unlimited spending by Super PACs but prohibited coordinating with candidates.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 5. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for each count.
Harber served as executive director of the Colorado Republican Party’s recently formed Super PAC, or independent expenditure committee, until the party terminated its contract with Harber shortly after the November election.
“We all sometimes make mistakes and put our faith in folks who perhaps we shouldn’t,” said Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, who appointed Harber.
Call described the decision to end the contract with Harber as a desire by the party to simply head in another direction. He said his last conversation with Harber was several months ago.
“At the end of the election cycle, we always have the opportunity to evaluate the direction and performance, and we made the decision ... to go in a different direction,” Call said.
The Colorado GOP is in the process of selecting a new director for its independent-expenditure committee, which is expected in the coming months.
The party said the Super PAC acts and spends independently of the state party.
It’s unlikely that Harber did any coordinating between candidates and the Colorado Republican Party’s PAC because the independent-expenditure committee was just granted approval by a district court in October, shortly before the November election. An appeal quickly was filed. Colorado Ethics Watch filed an appeal of the decision to grant approval of the GOP’s independent-expenditure committee.
“There really is zero chance,” Call said of the potential for illegal coordination. “We imposed significant safeguards and oversight with respect to the operations of the independent-expenditure committee to ensure no coordinating between either party operatives, or candidates and candidate committees.”
Attempts by The Durango Herald to reach Harber were unsuccessful.
Federal prosecutors said the case against Harber is believed to be the first criminal prosecution based upon the coordination of campaign contributions between political committees.
Colorado Republicans have been working feverishly to establish a first-of-its-kind Super PAC controlled by a state party in Colorado.
Watchdogs have been critical of the PAC, concerned that it will open the door to coordination between candidates and an independent expenditure committee. Such PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited funds.
“Whether it’s Tyler Harber or anybody else, a political party’s committee is not independent,” said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, which aggressively has opposed the creation of the Colorado Republican Party’s Super PAC.
“It would be very easy for illegal coordination to be going on that the public doesn’t know about and therefore can’t prosecute,” Toro said.
Ethics Watch filed an appeal to the Denver District Court decision that allowed for the formation of the Colorado Republican Party’s Super PAC. That case is set to begin next month.
“We think there’s probably a whole lot of coordination going on out there that hasn’t been proven,” Toro said. “My guess is there’s a lot more going on out there that hasn’t been brought to light.”