Last year's effort by a wealthy and strident backer of private-school vouchers to help three like-minded candidates win seats on the Colorado Springs School District 11 board spawned legal troubles for the candidates and sparked an internal squabble over money.
Chuck Broerman, a local Republican Party activist, stands at the epicenter of the conflict. He organized the mailing of tens of thousands of dollars' worth of political literature on behalf of Denver oil magnate Alex Cranberg in the lead-up to the 2005 election. The slick mailers hyped candidates Carla Albers, Bob Lathen and Reginald Perry, but in the end failed to bring any of them to the controversial D-11 board.
"He was a loose cannon, doing his own thing," Perry said this week of Broerman. "He did things outside my campaign, and here we are talking about it in court."
In a June ruling, Administrative Law Judge Matthew E. Norwood decided Perry and Albers violated campaign law by failing to properly report vitally important mailings coordinated by Broerman as in-kind expenditures to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office. A later ruling also found Lathen guilty. No fines or other penalties were imposed.
Insight behind the scenes
Perry, who added that he would not work with Broerman in any future campaigns, says the ruling merely nitpicked a small detail. The sentiment was echoed by the candidates' attorney, Bob Gardner, who says his clients were penalized for failing to fill in a blank space on complicated election forms.
"I don't agree with the finding or the outcome," he says.
Albers could not be reached, but in a voicemail to the Independent said the verdict indicated the case was a "frivolous" attack, apparently by teachers' union supporters.
Lathen failed to return calls.
The ruling left the former Palmer High School teacher who filed the complaint, Gary Fornander, claiming victory. He says the case not only scolded candidates for delaying the disclosure of the source of their funding, but also provided insight into the behind-the-scenes dealings of the controversial campaigns.
"We found out, for example, that Broerman also coordinated mailings for All Children Matter-Colorado," Fornander says.
The political nonprofit, part of a national "school choice" campaign to which Cranberg has heavily contributed, sent mailings critical of D-11's leadership.
Gardner, a Republican facing Democrat Anna Lord in a local race for state Legislature, was All Children Matter-Colorado's spokesman last year.
In the weeks approaching last year's money-laden D-11 board race, Albers, Lathen and Perry either played coy or proved unavailable to speak about their financial connections, including the source of the mailings that were scrutinized in court.
Meanwhile, fears ran rampant among school-choice critics that Albers, Lathen and Perry appeared to have a financial edge. Critics decried the deep pockets of Cranberg and local developer Steve Schuck in 2003, when they helped four candidates get elected to the seven-member board. Among the winners was Eric Christen, who openly supports the dismantling and privatization of public schools.
However, the seeming majority was soon broken, as board member Sandy Shakes defected.
By 2005, with three seats up for grabs, hundreds of thousands of dollars flowed into the race for both sides. Albers, Lathen and Perry's opponents, Sandra Mann, Tami Hasling and John Gudvangen, all sailed to clear victories.
Broerman spent $100,000 for the candidates' mailings $75,000 of it from Cranberg.
In creating the mailers, Broerman first collected photos from each candidate. He then sent mock-ups to them for approval, receiving responses from Albers and Perry.
Signs of frustration
Yet there were also signs of frustration with Broerman's dealings. According to court records, Albers complained that Broerman was not always responsive to her requests and that he failed to provide invoices, delaying her ability to report the mailings.
"After their falling out, Mr. Broerman stopped sending Ms. Albers mock-ups of the mailers," Norwood wrote.
Yet about two weeks after the Nov. 1, 2005, election, the relationship appeared mended, according to an e-mail Albers sent to Broerman seeking money to pay "volunteers."
"A very large concern to us personally, as well as for the Republican party in general, is that we have volunteers who have not been paid for their work on the ... campaign," Albers wrote on Nov. 16, 2005. "We are concerned that if these volunteers are not paid, this is a black eye for the party and for us personally."
To which Broerman, in an indication finances were tighter than opponents thought, replied: "I'm asking that those that do not absolutely need the money, to turn the money down so I can pay those that need to be paid."
Money tensions between the candidates and their wealthy backers swelled again when Cranberg refused to cover mailing costs above $75,000.
"Mr. Perry was upset to learn of these expenses, as her had understood that Mr. Cranberg would cover the costs of the mailers," Norwood wrote, adding, "Mr. Lathen refused to pay his invoice."
Schuck, Broerman and two of the candidates paid a remaining amount of up to $25,000 for the mailers.
Broerman, who never faced charges, could not be reached for comment.
In 2002, his campaign activities were drawn into question after he obtained parking meter hoods from the city for "construction work" outside Centennial Hall downtown. Instead, he used the spaces to park a vehicle promoting his favored political candidates.