Charles “Rick” Grice, the man who translated long rumors into print by filing a campaign finance complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck, withdrew that complaint Monday. He sent a letter to the FEC and a copy of that letter to the Buck campaign saying he no longer wished to pursue the matter.
“It’s a dead issue to me now,” Grice told the Colorado Independent, speaking from his car on a highway in Wyoming, “I’d rather have Buck in office. He’s the Republican candidate now.”
Grice, who supported former Lt Gov. Jane Norton in her primary run against Buck, said he doubted the FEC would pursue the complaint now that he has begged off.
“They’re so slow. They didn’t want to do anything with it before and now without anyone pushing it, I think they’ll just drop it.”
An FEC official told the Colorado Independent that the office was not at liberty to talk about nor could it release documents on open cases. He said that, at this point, there was no way to tell whether the Grice complaint would go forward, that there were no written procedures to follow governing requests to withdraw complaints and that he suspected the FEC counsel’s office reviewing the file might recommend the six-member Commission to also review the case and vote on whether to advance it.
Several FEC officials over the last week confirmed to the Colorado Independent that nothing would happen on the complaint any sooner than mid November, long after Election Day, when the significance of the complaint and of the accusations it contains all but dissolves.
Walt Klein, consultant to the Buck campaign, told the Independent that the course and fate of the complaint confirms the low estimation held by most observers of the FEC.
“It’s a game. I never thought the complaint should be filed. It was bogus. Obviously the whole thing was orchestrated by the Norton campaign to generate press. Rick [Grice] was just the guy they got to sign the complaint written by a law firm in DC.”
Grice told the Independent no DC law firm drafted or helped him draft the complaint.
“No that’s not correct. I wrote it,” he said.
Grice, like Buck primary rival Norton, was an official in Republican Gov. Bill Owens’ administration. In the complaint to the FEC, Grice alleged Buck had coordinated with friend and former employer Jerry Morgensen, CEO of Hensel Phelps Construction, to skirt campaign donation limits, reassuring potential contributors that Morgensen would work to finance the Buck campaign mostly through independent so-called 527 groups. Buck supporters therefore could believe that Buck’s candidacy was viable, regardless of what his campaign finance reports suggested, and they could join Morgensen in sending money above the individual $2400 legal limit to the 527 groups, money that would be directed not to support any issue but to directly promote Buck’s campaign.
From the complaint (pdf):
In about March 2009, as Buck was considering his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Buck interviewed prospective campaign consultants. During these interviews, Buck informed prospective campaign consultants and others that his friend Morgensen was prepared to spend up to $1 million on Buck’s anticipated U.S. Senate campaign, presumably as an independent expenditure. Morgensen, who accompanied Buck to some of these interviews, confirmed that he was planning to “invest” one million dollars or more in Buck’s Senate campaign.
Buck has advised Morgensen and other potential Buck donors who are financially able to contribute more than the maximum allowable contribution of $2,400 to make excess contributions to Declaration Alliance in care of John Hoteling. In February and March 2010, intending to benefit Buck and the Buck Committee, Declaration Alliance, with the involvement of John Hoteling, and using funds funneled to Declaration Alliance by Hensel Phelps and/or Morgensen and/or other individuals who have contributed in excess of the maximum allowable contribution limit of $2,400 per individual, received and spent just over $158,000 on a television ad campaign attacking one of Buck’s potential primary opponents.
Grice’s accusations stirred up GOP primary voters and made good fodder for Colorado talk radio, where Norton made sure to give them voice, but those initial sparks will be matched by the fizzle of the long non-action likely to ensue from this point.
That reality, the same as in nearly all FEC complaints, has fostered abuse of the complaint process, which is increasingly being used, as seems clear in this case, mostly just to make political hay.
“Our lawyer [Daniel Abramson] told us that there is just an enormous backlog of these kinds of cases and so campaigns file complaints as a form of press release,” said Klein. “It will take years to decide, so you just make an accusation and it gets attention. The system is abused.”
Complaints in the legal community about the dysfunction of the FEC are legion and squabbling among the left and right Commission members over the years has all but confirmed the worst suspicions about the agency’s inadequacy to deal with the increasing complexity of campaign finance law on the one hand and the kind of maneuvering Grice alleged happened at the Buck campaign on the other. Writing in 2008, the Campaign Legal Center agreed with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that the FEC provides “endless evidence that the agency must be replaced by an entity willing to enforce the laws on the books” and that it has “transformed itself from a merely dysfunctional agency to one that now openly thumbs its nose at the law.”
FEC watchers groaned, for example, when at the end of July, well more than two years after the fact, now-Vice President Joe Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign was found guilty by the FEC of violations and ordered to pay more than $200,000. A Biden campaign staffer paid the cash and the matter was closed, the investigation and ruling clearly having had no bearing on Biden’s long-past bid for the presidency.
In Colorado, Klein, for obvious reasons, made the case to the Independent that the matter is behind the campaign and, like Grice, he simply wants to move on.
“That part of the campaign is over. The complaint has been asked to be withdrawn and the primary is over. We’re focused on November.”
Indeed, Norton joined Buck at a unity event at the Arapahoe Men’s Club in Greenwood Village Wednesday.
“I’m pleased and honored to be here to formally endorse Ken Buck,” she told the crowd. “This is a really important election and we have an opportunity to take the Senate back. Ken is an extraordinary campaigner.”
Although the Grice complaint has been public for months, the Buck campaign’s defense against the charges in the complaint was never made public and, according to the FEC, it will be long after the election before the press has access to the document, which Klein said was drafted by Abramson for the campaign. Klein said Abramson simply argued that the charges had no merit.
Perhaps Abramson made a very good case for the Buck campaign. The public will have no way to measure before November.