Kathleen Curry: 'I know it is going to be close'

Report reveals influence of 527s in state races

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenNovember 9, 2010
The battle between three-term state Rep. Kathleen Curry and her old party is expensive business.

Outside political groups, or 527s, spent $250,000 on behalf of Democrat Roger Wilson, of Missouri Heights and Glenwood Springs, according to a report in today's Colorado Statesman. That's the most money that the Democrat-supporting 527s spent in any one state House race in Colorado this year.

Kathleen Curry

“My race wins the award for the most outside (527) money spent to propel a candidate for state house to victory,” Curry wrote in an e-mail to supporters on Tuesday. “Over $250,000 was spent on negative fliers, door to door canvassing, and calling voters to put the democrat temporarily over the top.”

After leaving the Democrats last year over disagreements about oil and gas legislation and fiscal responsibility, Curry was forced to wage a write-in campaign to retain her seat in House District 61. Due to Curry's popularity and the peculiarities that come with the write-in ballot-counting process, the Nov. 2 contest has yet to yield a clear-cut winner. At last count, Wilson was winning by 495 votes.

Denver District Court Judge has ruled that the 2,001 undervotes in the district must be hand counted so that any ballots that have Curry's name written into the line for the HD61 race will be counted toward her tally even if the voter did not color in the oval next to the write-in line.

In Pitkin County, Curry's poll watchers believe as many as 100 voters wrote in her name but did not fill in the oval.

Clerks from Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield and Eagle counties plan to inspect the undervotes in the district next week. The clerk in Hinsdale County has completed the inspection of undervotes there already.

Roger Wilson

From the beginning of the ballot-counting process, Curry also has expressed concerns with the count in Pitkin County due to some mechanical difficulties that were encountered with voting machines here early on. She would like a hand count of all the ballots in Pitkin County to ensure an accurate total. That request hasn't been granted.

“So far the work of the clerks, their staff and the judges has been very professional and thorough, and I know that their work next week will also be fair,” Curry wrote. “I plan to have watchers present to make sure that the counting process reflects the direction from the court. Although watchers now have to be at least six feet away from the work of the judges ... I am very confident that I will ultimately get an accurate count of the ballots that have my name on them but lack a filled in box.”

She ended her e-mail to supporters by writing: “As far as I'm concerned we already won because we ran a campaign that was not negative, relied on small local campaign donations, and focused on the issues. I know it is going to be close.”

Once all the ballot counting and inspecting is over, should Curry get within 47 votes of Wilson, an automatic recount would be triggered in the district's five counties under Colorado law. Curry wouldn't have to pay for a recount under that scenario. But she could choose to pay for one if the gap is not closer. In previous interviews, Curry has said she has not ruled out paying for a recount if needed.

House District 61 is coveted by the Democrats who, at press time, have 31 seats compared to the Grand Old Party's 33 seats in the state House. There are two other races, House Districts 29 and 33, that haven't been finalized so a clear picture of the balance of power at the state House has yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, the 527s were busy spending in Colorado Senate District 5, too.

Gail Schwartz

The Colorado Statesman reports that Democratic-supporting 527s raised at least $441,000, with almost $200,000 of that going to radio and TV ads like those that nicknamed Republican candidate Bob Rankin of Aspen, “Big Oil Bob.” The 527s opposing Gail Schwartz, the Democratic incumbent from Snowmass Village, were far more unscrupulous.

Western Tradition Partnership targeted Schwartz with TV ads and mailers that the executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters called “the most tasteless piece of mail so far in the 2010 election cycle.”

Western Tradition Partnership was originally registered in Colorado in 2008 by Republican operative Scott Shires of Aurora. But the Colorado Statesman said the group was most recently registered by Mario Nicolais, an attorney who is also the registered agent for Secretary of State-elect Scott Gessler. The Colorado Statesman report suggested Western Tradition Partnership might not have registered in this state properly.

“The 527 committee registered with the Secretary of State on Oct. 13, but ads and mailers targeting Schwartz were already circulating through the district as early as September,” the Statesman reported. “The committee, in two campaign finance reports filed Oct. 18 and Nov. 1, reported no donations or expenditures. [Senate President Brandon] Shaffer said ... the Republican committees don’t follow the rules and ignore the laws regarding disclosure.”

The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices has already ruled that Western Tradition Partnership likely violated campaign finance and disclosure laws in that state and has recommended civil penalties.

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