DENVER — It’s tough to be a tea partier in Washington, a creature born in philosophical contradiction. A Tea Party lawmaker has had to rail against Washington and its culture of incumbent corruption in order to win the privilege of going to Washington to gain the kind of access to corrupting money he or she will need to become a lucky incumbent.
Colorado Congressman Cory Gardner has danced on the tip of that Tea Party dilemma repeatedly during his four short years in the nation’s capital. He was swept into office on the Tea Party wave in 2010 after criss-crossing the large rural Fourth District and promising from hay-covered stump to hay-covered stump to put the people first and remake the out-of-touch culture of privilege and profligate spending on Capitol Hill. Then he arrived and soon he was traveling on all-expense-paid junkets to Dublin and Key Largo and enjoying the access provided by oil company executives who hosted fundraisers for him — like the one hosted by Koch Industries and British Petroleum for him the same week BP’s burning and collapsed Deepwater Horizon drill rig was wreaking environmental havoc in the Gulf of Mexico.
Just weeks ago, Gardner announced he was running for the U.S. Senate. It came out later that he had made inside deals with potential Republican primary opponents so that he could run unimpeded for the chance to unseat Democrat Mark Udall. Gardner “cleared the field,” as they say in political circles, and then won enormous Republican Party support at this month’s assemblies.
All of which has upped Gardner’s profile and fueled scrutiny.
Liberal activist group ProgressNow, for one, is relishing the increased opportunities the Senate run is affording to remind Colorado voters that Gardner the Tea Partier is also now a full-bore Washington politician.
Today the group set sail its “Conman Cory” campaign by parking a 28-foot yacht it christened “The Good Life” in front of the capitol in Denver. A life-size cardboard cutout of Gardner stood on the deck dressed in politician garb, smiling down at the small crowd of amused onlookers gathered on the cobblestones walkway in the sunlight.
The ProgressNow campaign is centered around a 2012 CBS News report on a fundraiser held for Gardner and other members of Congress at a Florida yacht club. High-rollers reportedly gave tens of thousands of dollars to attend. They hobnobbed with the lawmakers and they all went fishing. Gardner allegedly played bartender at a happy hour that charged drinkers $10,000 each. CBS video shows yachts motoring out of the yacht club docks on the fundraiser fishing expedition, one of them memorably named “Good Life.”
“Congressman Gardner said he went to Washington to fight for Coloradans,” said ProgressNow Director Amy Runyon-Harms. “We’re calling on him to stop conning Coloradans and disclose who he met with in Florida and what he promised them and if any of those people are contributing to his Senate campaign.
“Did he sell out Coloradans so he can live the good life?”
A few state lawmakers walked around the yacht. Denver Democrat Joe Salazar looked at the ship and winced. “It’s not my boat,” he said, joking. Former Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty laughed from a distance, his arms folded across his chest.
“This boat is a 28-footer,” said Runyon-Harms. “The one Cory was sailing around on in Florida was a 40-footer.”