Committee with unnamed donors has most money on table in Colorado Springs election
A little-known campaign committee that doesn't have to name its donors has raised $90,000 - the most of any campaign group and more than any of the candidates - to provide opposition research, direct mailers and other work in the Colorado Springs City Council election, a new campaign finance report shows.
Colorado Citizens Protecting our Constitution Independent Expenditure Committee is a 501(c)4 nonprofit group working to "engage in social welfare activities by educating the general public on federal and state and constitutional rights, including under the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution," says the 990 form it filed with the IRS.
That form lists more than $1 million in unspecified receipts and its principal officer as Andy Nickel, a Denver-area lawyer who did not return calls from The Gazette.
The IRS exempts (501)c nonprofits from the requirement to reveal their donors. The committee's Wednesday campaign finance report only shows the group giving $30,000 to itself March 7, $40,000 to itself March 9 and $20,000 to itself Monday.
Its expenditures are listed, however.
The organization has spent $72,933 on services imported from Texas, Jacksonville, Fla., Buffalo, Wyo., and Washington, D.C.
Its closest expenditure to Colorado Springs was $2,000 to Windhover Media in Monument, owned by Dede Laugesen, wife of Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen.
She is listed as the group's registered agent on its Wednesday campaign finance report to the city.
Dede Laugesen sent an email statement saying: "Colorado Citizens Protecting our Constitution is rallying behind candidates who, in our view, will continue this positive momentum by fixing roads, cutting wasteful spending, and keeping the Springs out of the petty politicking of yesterday."
Colorado Citizens Protecting our Constitution, which supports District 5 candidate Lynette Crow-Iverson and likely others, also paid $14,569 to Wizbang Solutions in Commerce City for direct mailers.
Crow-Iverson said she knows nothing about Colorado Citizens Protecting our Constitution or fliers or postcards sent by organizations beyond her campaign.
The committee mailed a flier to District 3 voters Monday, calling candidate Richard Skorman a "liberal lobbyist."
The political group also paid $10,334 to Percipient Strategies in Washington, D.C., for consulting.
The consultant, Naji A. Filali, did not respond to emails and calls from The Gazette after he filed Colorado Open Record Act requests with the city Feb. 2.
Filali asked for Gaebler's expenditures as a council member, from travel to long-distance calls. He also wanted all applications and proposals to the city from Greccio Housing when she worked for that nonprofit before she was elected to the council. He wanted any housing complaints and fines against Greccio, too, and emails between the city and Gaebler when she worked there.
Also in Filali's sights was District 4 Councilwoman Helen Collins, for whom he wanted all documents related to the Independent Ethics Commission investigation of her and its final report.
This isn't the first foray into local politics by Colorado Citizens Protecting our Constitution. It also participated in Colorado Springs' 2015 election, when 13 candidates ran for two at-large council seats and Councilman Larry Bagley ran to keep representing District 2.
The committee raised $67,000, didn't disclose it, and sent fliers incorrectly calling Bagley's opponent, Kanda Calef, a lobbyist. Bagley said he had nothing to do with the fliers.
In 2013, the newly founded group - along with the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity, among others - helped recall state Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. He and state Sen. Angela Giron became the first Colorado legislators recalled, ousted because they backed stricter gun laws.
Also that year, Colorado Citizens Protecting our Constitution took out a full-page advertisement in The Gazette to criticize state Rep. Tony Exum, a Colorado Springs Democrat representing House District 17.
Exum lost the seat in 2014 to Republican Catherine "Kit" Roupe, then took it back in November, continuing the district's 11-year-old trend of switching every two years between Democrats and Republicans.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported that Colorado Citizens Protecting our Constitution produced a mailer criticizing Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler. That mailer was produced by a different campaign committee.
Other 501(c) campaign groups that are working on the April 4 election and need not disclose their donors:
◘ Colorado Springs Forward, whose 990 IRS form lists Lynette Crow as its principal officer and its function as "a broad-based alliance of people and organizations devoted to promote and enhance the city of Colorado Springs.
CSF had raised $32,000 as of Wednesday and contributed through its PAC $5,000 to the Committee for Ballot Issue 2 and $5,000 each to District 1 challenger Greg Basham, District 3 candidate Chuck Fowler, District 4 challenger Deborah L. Hendrix, District 5 challenger Lynette Crow-Iverson and District 6 Councilman Andres G. Pico.
◘ The Housing & Building Association PAC, which lists CEO Renee Zentz as its principal officer and has raised $79,375 from unspecified sources. The group donated $16,000 to Fowler, $6,000 each to Basham, Hendrix and Crow-Iverson and $4,000 to Pico.
◘ The Apartment Association of Southern Colorado, whose 990 form lists its executive director, Laura Nelson, as principal officer and its mission to "continually improve multi-housing industry in southern Colorado through gathering, interchange and dissemination of timely and important information."
The association reported receiving no donations, but it gave $400 each to Fowler and to his opponent, Richard Skorman, to Hendrix, Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler and Pico.
Campaign committees that are not 501(c) organizations include:
◘ Committee for Ballot Issue 2, which received $36,800. Its biggest donations came from the HBA, $10,000, and $5,000 each from Nor'wood Limited Inc., The Broadmoor and the CSF PAC.
◘ I Am Created Equal, which opposes Ballot Issue 2, got $4,120, including $2,000 from Laura Carno and $1,000 each from Joe Woodford and Joe Marsh.
◘ Together for Colorado Springs, a new "progressive" committee, was given $200.