A familiar pro-voucher organization has wiggled its way into yet another election, raising the eyebrows of at least one watchdog group and of the candidate smeared by the group's advertisements.
All Children Matter, Inc., a Virginia-based organization, has been sponsoring advertisements on several major Colorado Springs radio stations regarding the crucial District 11 state Senate seat. The advertisements speak favorably of incumbent state Sen. Ed Jones, R-Colorado Springs, and disparage his opponent, Democrat John Morse, by alleging that the former Fountain police chief "simply has no record."
All Children Matter is known locally for its heavy involvement in last year's School District 11 board elections. The organization's Colorado affiliate, called All Children Matter-Colorado, burned through $125,000 in "electioneering communications, issue advocacy and independent expenditures." An undisclosed amount of this money helped to back unsuccessful D-11 candidates Bob Lathen, Carla Albers and Reginald Perry, who espoused "school choice."
As a tax-exempt 527 organization, All Children Matter can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money to influence the outcomes of elections, as long as it does not openly endorse any candidate.
In the advertisements, All Children Matter maintains that its radio spots are "not authorized by any candidate or committee." But Jones' campaign registered agent is local attorney Bob Gardner, who acted as spokesman for All Children Matter-Colorado in 2005. Gardner is also running for state representative in District 21. Neither Jones nor Gardner returned several phone calls seeking comment.
State Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, who is running for re-election in District 18, is skeptical of All Children Matter's involvement in the Senate race. He says it's likely that the national school voucher movement is pushing pro-voucher candidates on the state level, since similar efforts in city school boards have failed. Senate District 11 encompasses most of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.
"That is the snake with a thousand heads," Merrifield says. "The tragic disruption in [School District 11] is an example of the lengths [the pro-voucher movement] will go to."
With $9,500 in contributions through late July, Jones has raised less than one-fifth of what Morse says he has raised. Jones has also chosen to comply with voluntary spending limits defined by the secretary of state, meaning that he will not spend more than $90,000 in total.
Morse suspects that Jones' fundraising and spending discretion is a sign that he will not be actively campaigning.
"Clearly, he is not going to run a campaign," he says. "He is going to let the 527s campaign and run ads like that."
Jenny Flanagan, Colorado director of Common Cause, an election watchdog group, says that candidates typically do not expect 527s to campaign in their stead. But she says it is not impossible.
"It raises the question of whether candidates are getting into a cozy relationship with the 527s, with candidates relying on them," she says.
The little money that Jones has raised comes from a familiar pro-voucher lineup, including Steve Schuck, the Colorado Private School Association and D-11 school board member Willie Breazell.
Morse's campaign has also sparked the interest of individuals with a stake in D-11 school board politics. Alfred Metzger and Esther Beynon each gave $150 to Morse's campaign. Last month, they donated the largest reported contribution of $1,000 to the D-11 recall campaign, which seeks to unseat board members Eric Christen and Sandy Shakes.