Honest Campaigning? Only Time Will Tell

Two days after the chairman of El Paso County’s GOP laid down the gauntlet, warning that the Party will not tolerate false or misleading statements or dishonest attacks by fellow Republicans, it remains unknown whether the message will prove to have teeth.

It’s also unknown whether similar condemnation of bare-knuckle tactics of the past will spread beyond the borders of Colorado Springs.

The edict, issued this week by county GOP Chair Greg Garcia, was clearly inspired by 5th Congressional candidate Jeff Crank’s decision to challenge Freshman Rep. Doug Lamborn – whose supporters last year sent mailers out accusing Crank of supporting the “radical homosexual agenda” and taxes – fighting words in this conservative stronghold.

Keep reading.On Friday, Lamborn’s campaign chairman, Jon Hotaling, could not be reached to comment on Garcia’s strongly-worded notice. State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams was also not available for comment, including whether he may consider issuing a similar call for civility to candidates statewide.

Chuck Gosnell, the chairman of the Christian Coalition of Colorado (CCC), is on vacation, said his assistant. And on Friday, the telephone at the organization’s Denver headquarters rang without response or an answering machine. Last year the Christian Coalition of Colorado, along with the Washington-based Club for Growth, sent out the mail pieces attacking Crank, and another former candidate, Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera. The Christian Coalition of Colorado was run by Jon Hotaling’s brother Mark Hotaling, and the close connection resulted in a complaint being filed with the Federal Elections Commission alleging illegal coordination between the campaign and the two political action committees.

At the time, Jon Hotaling denied providing voter lists to the organizations. “It’s a ridiculous stunt for a desperate campaign,” he said of the complaint, which eventually was dismissed.

(Indeed, one of the men who filed the complaint in July – Bob Gardner – said in October, “I fully support [state] Senator Lamborn in his candidacy and encourage every one I know to vote for Senator Lamborn.” Gardner, who had been a supporter of Crank, is an attorney, former chairman of the El Paso County GOP and won his first term in the state House of Representatives in November.)

The mailings were later credited – or blamed, depending on perspective – for putting Lamborn over the top. He won the primary by less than a thousand votes. Crank finished second in a six-man race.

Shortly after announcing his intent to run again, Crank this week said he hopes that the coming showdown “will be respectful on both sides.”

And Nathan Fisk, the executive director of the El Paso County Republican Party, said that Garcia’s letter clearly indicates that dishonest campaigning and attack politics will no longer be tolerated – at least within El Paso County’s Republican Party. However, without any actual penalties, Fisk conceded that only time will tell how well the demand will be followed.

When Greg [Garcia] ran in January his platform was party unity, and that is the message we’re consistently going to put forth,” Fisk said. “He felt it is important to be frank from the outset, to not assume nothing was going to happen but be forthright from the outset.”

To read Garcia’s letter in its entirety, click here.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com

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