The attorney who filed a lawsuit to help former lawmaker Jon Keyser secure a spot on the U.S. Senate Republican primary ballot also advises the Colorado Republican Party.
The state GOP pledges to remain neutral in Republican primaries. Party spokesman Kyle Kohli says there are only a handful of attorneys who do the kinds of political work needed by the party and by Keyser’s campaign. Others contacted for this story also pointed to the small pool of Republican election attorneys in Colorado.
“There’s been no concern that’s been brought to our attention,” Kohli says about the Republican Party’s lawyer also working to get a candidate on the GOP primary ballot.
Keyser hired attorney Christopher O. Murray of the Denver office of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck firm, after the Secretary of State said the Keyser campaign had not properly gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot. (Disclosure: Murray’s firm has represented The Colorado Independent pro-bono on some organizational matters.)
Murray, who was Mitt Romney’s 2012 deputy general counsel, filed a lawsuit April 26 against Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, on the Keyser campaign’s behalf. He argues Keyser’s campaign followed state law in its signature gathering process, and Keyser should be on the June ballot, not kicked off because of a “technicality.” It is well known that Murray, who has also donated to Keyser’s campaign, has been close personal friends with the candidate and his wife for years. Reached by phone, Murray declined to comment.
Currently, Republicans Darryl Glenn and Jack Graham have already been cleared as candidates who will see their names on the primary ballot. To get there, Glenn went through the convention-assembly process, and Graham, a former NFL quarterback and CSU athletic director, gathered more than enough signatures to qualify. The Secretary of State’s office is still validating petitions for Republican businessman Robert Blaha and former Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier to see if they will qualify.
In Colorado, candidates who want to petition onto the ballot must gather 1,500 signature in each of the state’s seven congressional districts. There are specific rules for those who gather the signatures and for those who sign the petitions, and the Secretary of State’s office says Keyser hadn’t followed those rules closely enough.
That Keyser’s campaign has hit this hurdle is a major blow to a candidate the pundit class in Colorado has pegged as being the golden ticket for the big-money establishment crowd in the fight for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet. Even if Keyser wins his legal challenge it isn’t hard to imagine an attack ad against a candidate who “had to sue his way onto the ballot.”
At least one of Keyser’s GOP rivals doesn’t have a problem with him using the Republican Party’s lawyer.
“The only thing I think about in his case is it would have been easier for him to go through the assembly,” says Glenn, an El Paso County Commissioner who is also a lawyer.
Glenn will be on the ballot since he beat out six other Republicans at the April 9 GOP state convention, winning 70 percent of the vote from delegates. He used Keyser’s signature SNAFU as an opportunity to point out his own successful path toward ballot access.
“They all should have went through the assembly, and they wouldn’t have that issue,” Glenn says of Keyser, Graham, Blaha and Frazier.
In a bit of irony, if Keyser had gone through the assembly process and ran into a snag there, Murray would have been conflicted from being his attorney because the state Republican Party runs the assembly process. The state GOP, however, has nothing to do with the way Republican candidates gather signatures to petition onto the ballot.
Blaha’s campaign declined to comment for this story, and messages left for Frazier, and for Dick Wadhams, Graham’s campaign manager, were not immediately returned.
Lily Tang Williams, the Libertarian Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate who will be on the General Election ballot, said she would have to look into the issue more before she would comment on it.
“I heard he’s the establishment pick. He was the chosen one,” she said of Keyser.
Arn Menconi, the Green Party’s nominee, who will also be on the general election ballot, says the arrangement just doesn’t look right.
“It gives the appearance of impropriety,” he says. “People will see that as a conflict of interest and we’re in a climate right now when everybody feels as though the electoral process is rigged, and this is just adding kerosine to the fire.”
Former Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call says the Keyser camp hiring Murray — an attorney Call knows, has worked with and admires — is an illustration of the candidate’s commitment to getting on the ballot.
Call, also a lawyer, said confidentiality rules would firewall Murray off from any conflict of interest.
“I don’t see any ethical issues,” says Luis Toro, the director of Colorado Ethics Watch. “Maybe political ones.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story understated Murray’s role with Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid. He was deputy general counsel to the national campaign.[Photo credit: Wesley Fryer via Creative Commons on Flickr]