Dick Wadhams, Wally Stealey trade barbs over 527s at Vail water confab

Colorado Republican State Chairman Dick Wadhams sparred with influential lobbyist Wally Stealey in Vail Friday over the negative campaigning of independent political committees, campaign finance reform and the disaffection of voters with their respective political parties.

Speaking at the summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress, Stealey, an independent political consultant and former political science professor at the University of Southern Colorado, chided Wadhams for his denials that the state Republican Party has any contact with so-called 527 groups responsible for vitriolic “issues” ads aimed at specific candidates. Such 527s, named for their IRS code number, have emerged in recent years, providing special interest groups to, using unlimited cash, support or attack political candidates and causes and bypass federal contribution limits.

“My political experience since those monsters [527s] were invented is, (Dick’s) correct, he can’t contact them, his candidate can’t contact them, Congressman [Mark] Udall can’t contact them, the Democratic state chairman can’t contact them, so we go through Wally,” Stealey said. “He can contact them because he’s a nobody, and when I get done contacting them, I report back.”

But Wadhams, who’s running the U.S. Senate campaign of former Congressman Bob Schaffer against Udall, fired back: “Well, Wally, I don’t do that. You might do that, but I don’t, so you just admitted you broke the law.”

Stealey laughed Wadhams off: “Oh, Dick, come on, come on.”

One Republican audience member at the Colorado Water Congress confab — a nonprofit state water policy group of more than 300 stakeholder groups — told Wadhams and Stealey he felt abandoned by his party and asked whether there will be a move back to fiscal responsibility and less government regulation in 2008, no matter which party comes away the big winner.

“I think one of the reasons we lost control of Congress in 2006 is that Republicans basically forfeited fiscal responsibility by those earmarks on appropriations bills and President Bush’s failure to veto any of those bills and we paid a heavy cost for that and in many ways we deserved it,” Wadhams said. “That’s why we’re seeing a much different kind of candidate run in 2008. I think the party is returning to its fiscal responsibility.”

Stealey countered that both parties seem to grow government once their candidates get into office, whether it’s Washington or Denver.

“I became a relatively famous lobbyist fighting bureaucrats. They beat me nine out of 10. They’re tough. They work year-round. They’re just like a prisoner working on an escape,” Stealey said, drawing a big laugh. “We’ve been getting bigger government from both parties. The Republicans controlled the [state] Legislature for years and years and years and the government got bigger.

“If the party of your choice has run off and left you, it’s your fault. Get involved in your party, fight for your convictions and don’t let them run off and leave you.”

Both agreed that campaign finance reform efforts to limit the influence of out-of-state money on local races — money being injected either into 527s or directly into candidate campaign chests — by restricting such funds to in-state sources would not work.

“It’s a noble idea but I think you’d have First Amendment concerns with such a restriction,” Wadhams said.

Stealey agreed: “You’ve got a terrible First Amendment problem, and although I don’t like what’s going on, I would not give up the First Amendment for anything.”

Check out this related story about Udall and Schaffer hashing over McCain’s original position — now revised — of wanting to renegotiate the Colorado River Compact.


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