DENVER – Two weeks after they ended their annual session, several Colorado legislators took up a new fad – creating political action committees.
About a dozen PACs were registered by or for legislators this spring, almost all of them by Republicans.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, was among them. She registered a group called Western Republican Values on May 25.
The Republican committees are part of a cooperative strategy to get more campaign money to candidates, a senior House Republican said.
Roberts said she registered her PAC to help fellow Republican Senate candidates.
So-called “leadership PACs” are nothing new. Up-and-coming legislators in both parties have used them in past years as they sought to move up the ranks.
But the number of PACs registered this year is unusual.
A search of campaign-finance data by The DurangoHerald found 11 new PACs were tied to legislators – four on the same day, June 4.
Of the 11 PACs, nine belong to Republicans. Other new PACs might have statehouse ties, but it could not be determined because they used the name and address of a registered agent, not a legislator’s.
Assistant House Majority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, registered Waller’s Outstanding Leadership Fund PAC – WOLF PAC – at the same time as several other House Republicans.
“We were trying to work to figure out ways we could help Republican candidates,” Waller said. “It’s a cooperative effort.”
Waller said Republicans were looking for ways to counter union money. The PACs face the same $400 donation limits as individual citizens. But small donor committees, including unions, can give 10 times that amount.
John Straayer, a Colorado State University professor who closely follows the Legislature, said legislators usually form leadership PACs to advance their own ambitions.
“You want a leadership position, so if you can help your colleagues, that’s one way to ingratiate yourself,” Straayer said.
That’s not what Roberts is up to, she said.
“I like my independence, and I think when you get into a leadership role with a title, you sacrifice that for the party,” Roberts said.
Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Niwot is the only Democrat who registered a leadership PAC this year, although a handful of other Democrats registered them in previous years.
As chairwoman of the House Majority Project, the Democrats’ statewide campaign group, she helps promising candidates run for office. Her personal PAC serves the same purpose, although she said she hasn’t done much with it yet.
“I’m not personally wealthy myself, but this is a good way for me to help candidates out,” Hullinghorst said.
So far, it’s impossible to tell how the money will be used because most of the new PACs report no fundraising or expenses. The next campaign-finance reports are due Aug. 1.