Colorado Republicans have had quite a bit of trouble with campaign finance violations during this election cycle, and the hits just keep on coming. The variety of violations has been curious — from Tim Neville's open courting of anonymous donations to Secretary of State candidate Wayne Williams accepting obviously illegal donations — but sometimes the biggest problems can come from simple sloppiness.
Take a look at this recent mail piece in support of Republican Kit Roupe in HD-17 (Colorado Springs). The mailer comes from the Colorado Leadership Fund, which is a GOP "soft side" political 527 committee formed to help elect Republican candidates to the State House.
The problem here should be fairly obvious to the politically-astute reader: Side two of the mailer directs readers to CatherineRoupe.com, which is the official campaign website for Kit Roupe. Official campaign materials produced or created by the candidate's campaign falls into the category of "hard side" campaign finances.
It is illegal for the "soft side" and "hard side" to coordinate together, of course, but this would likely qualify as an "in-kind" contribution to Roupe's campaign (because it promotes her official campaign website). By making this "in-kind" contribution, the Colorado Leadership Fund (CLF) just inadvertently changed its legal definition from a non-profit "527" committee to an official political committee.
Why does that matter? Without getting too technical here, "527" committees operate under different rules as political committees. By making this unsolicited "in-kind" contribution to Roupe's campaign and changing its legal definition to a political committee, every contribution the CLF has received in the last 180 days (and henceforth) that exceeds the $550 limit for State House candidates is now a campaign finance violation subject to penalties that are 2-5 times the amount of the violation. Not only that, but the CLF probably now has to file regular contribution and expenditure reports that are much more frequent — and much more transparent — than anything that is done through a "527" committee.
This is a silly, silly, silly mistake that may prove incredibly costly to Republicans even if Secretary of State Scott Gessler lets them off the hook for campaign finance penalties. The bigger issue for the GOP is that it now has a serious credibility problem with major donors who are most definitely not interested in having a big spotlight shone in their eyes.
Republicans have been playing fast and loose with campaign finance rules during the entire 2014 election season, and it's possible that this particular problem will have crossover effect with the GOP's shiny new "soft side" organization charged with winning control of the State Senate.
The GOP had little hope of winning control of the State House this year, but we're guessing that Republican Reps. Libby Szabo and Brian DelGrosso won't be put in charge of anything more important than making coffee in 2016.