GOP’s Gardner Grazing in Former Enemy Camp

Less than three months ago, longtime El Paso County GOP operative Bob Gardner was so incensed over the tactics employed by the Doug Lamborn for Congress campaign that he filed a Federal Election Commission complaint alleging illegal coordination between the candidate and two political action committees.But even as the FEC complaint remains acive, Gardner, an attorney, former chairman of the county GOP and current candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives, now says he doesn’t have any comment about his past assertions of illegal activity. Once an ardent supporter of Republican Jeff Crank – one of two targets of hit pieces put out by Lamborn’s supporters – Gardner is now solidly in his former enemy’s camp.

“I fully support Senator Lamborn in his candidacy and encourage every one I know to vote for Senator Lamborn,” Gardner said in a brief interview. “He understands what’s at stake, he understands the values of the district and he understands what it takes to win the war.”

That’s a far cry from Gardner’s position in August, when he alleged that the Christian Coalition of Colorado and the Washington-based Club for Growth coordinated with the Lamborn campaign when sending out mail pieces asserting that Crank, and a third candidate, Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera, supported tax increases, as well as the “radical homosexual agenda.”

As detailed in an Aug. 23 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Gardner suspected that the Lamborn campaign had provided lists of absentee voters to the Christian Coalition of Colorado and the Club for Growth. By law, such political action committees cannot work in tandem with each other. But, the only groups who had requested the lists of absentee voters from the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder’s office included Lamborn’s campaign, as well as Crank and Rivera’s campaigns, the Republican 527 Trailhead Group and the Campaign Compliance Center. Yet at least two absentee voters reported getting the mail pieces from the two organizations that were working on behalf of Lamborn, Gardner alleged. The Colorado chapter of the Christian Coalition is run by the brother of Lamborn’s campaign manager and the Club for Growth reported raising more than $200,000 for Lamborn in the primary.

“By process of elimination, the only place (the Club for Growth and the Christian Coalition) could have gotten those lists is through Lamborn,” Gardner told the Gazette. High profile Colorado GOP attorney and activist Scott Gessler worked with Gardner in filing the complaint with the FEC.

At the time, Lamborn’s campaign manager, Jon Hotaling, denied providing the lists to the organizations. “It’s a ridiculous stunt for a desperate campaign,” he said of Gardner and Gessler’s action.

An FEC spokesman said the agency cannot comment on the status of the complaint, which could take months or more to process.

Meanwhile, Gardner’s embrace of Lamborn as his party’s official candidate may be in step with the traditional practice – but it certainly hasn’t been the norm this year. Retiring Rep. Joel Hefley, who is giving his seat up after 20 years, has refused to endorse Lamborn, and has called his campaign tactics “sleazy” and “dishonest.”

Gardner’s previously favored candidate, Crank, has also not endorsed Lamborn, nor have at least two other primary opponents – though the Lamborn campaign has on at least one other occasion erroneously claimed he had the blessing of all of them. Last week Crank complained that Hotaling has continued to badmouth him, and issued a call for Lamborn to get his campaign manager “under control.”

And other Republicans have defected altogether. At last count, Lamborn’s opponent, Democrat Jay Fawcett, has identified 32 Repblicans in the district who have publicly endorsed his candidacy –