Thursday, March 14, 2013

UPDATE: The rating game: Is it legal?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 5:08 PM

Here's a recording of Sean Paige's robo call:

Also, Keith King's campaign manager, Daniel Cole, sent us this assurance via e-mail regarding property taxes for King's home:

"Keith and Sandi pay those property taxes jointly."


—————————-ORIGINAL POST THURSDAY, MARCH 14, 2:32 P.M.—————————————-

The right wing is out in force trying to influence the City Council election, but it's unclear whether all efforts are in line with restrictions placed on certain nonprofit organizations.

Sean Paige, AFP, April 2 city election Keith King
  • Paige: Making robo calls with candidate 'ratings.'

Americans for Prosperity, a Koch family-backed enterprise used to advance the tea party, has what's called 501(c)4 status under the Internal Revenue Service, meaning it doesn't pay taxes.

(According to sourcewatch.org, "As of August 13th, Americans for Prosperity spent an estimated $45 million on ads to influence the 2012 presidential election, their total budget for 2012 will top $100 million." The website also notes AFP's 501(c)4 arm is "generally referred to as a 'dark money' group because it does not have to disclose its donors, despite spending millions to influence political campaigns.")

But the designation also means such organizations are barred from certain political activities. Here's an explanation of that from an IRS publication:

Political Campaign Activities:
Reg. 1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(ii) provides that the promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. Thus, an organization exempt under IRC 501(c)(4) may engage in political campaign activities if those activities are not the organization's primary activity."

AFP's purpose, as described on an IRS filing, is to "educate U.S. citizens about the impact of sound economic policy on the nation's economy and social structure, and mobilize citizens to be involved in fiscal and regulatory economic matters."

That same purpose is stated on the same filing for state chapters, of which Colorado has one. There's no mention of promoting specific candidates in a City Council race. But that's exactly what's happening in Colorado Springs.

AFP Colorado, which some people describe as extreme right-wing, employs Sean Paige, former Gazette editorial writer and former Springs City Councilman. (He was appointed to an empty seat and was then defeated at the 2011 election.)

Paige is making robo calls that talk up Keith King, a former state senator and staunch Republican running in the southwest District 3. He's also making calls in other districts as well. "We've done this on a citywide basis," he says.

It starts off: "Hi. It's Sean Paige with American For Prosperity calling to tell you about a fantastic new tool you can use to know where City Council candidates stand on the issues."

Paige then tells listeners to go to knowthecandidatesco.com to see rankings assigned to all the candidates in all six Council districts based on their answers to AFP's survey. He then tells people that King scored highest in District 3.

And it's no surprise that all the candidates who scored highest are vehemently against raising taxes, anytime, for any purpose — which has long been the position of AFP. (The only exception was Deborah Hendrix in District 4, who waffled by saying she would only support more taxes if they were needed to avoid harming citizens and the city.)

Some top scorers, including King, said they even oppose letting voters decide, meaning they said they opposed referring a tax measure to the ballot.

(And, you know, local property taxes are so outrageously high. According to the El Paso County Assessor's Office, King's wife — King, the candidate, isn't listed as an owner of the property he considers his home address — pays the city of Colorado Springs $132 a year in taxes on her $388,000 Broadmoor Bluffs house. That wouldn't even buy one set of tires for a police cruiser.)

But AFP isn't really endorsing candidates at all, Paige argues in an interview. "We are not endorsing candidates. This is voter education. We're very careful. We don't endorse candidates. We are able under the tax code to educate voters, and that's what we do. We're very scrupulous about abiding by our tax status. If some people rate more poorly ... I guess that can't be helped. It's in no way an endorsement."

As you can imagine, the AFP's infatuation with King leaves Jim Bensberg, the former El Paso County commissioner who's also running in District 3, a little riled up.

"I think this message would register with most folks as a clear endorsement of a political candidate," Bensberg says.

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