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Diminishing returns 

GOP donations dip during year of discord

click to enlarge Colorado Springs City Councilman Jerry Heimlicher.
  • Colorado Springs City Councilman Jerry Heimlicher.

Bitter internal feuds over a county commissioner race, a state referendum and a school board race, all within the past year, may have taken a toll on the El Paso County Republican Party's war chest.

Contributions to the party this year dropped 9 percent from 2003, the most recent year that featured neither a primary nor a general election. The amount was down 25 percent from 2001.

One prominent member suggests the flagging fund-raising could reflect disenchantment among traditional GOP donors.

Having alienated much of the business community by vainly fighting against this month's statewide Referendum C, many local Republicans "are going to have a very difficult time raising support and money," observes Jerry Heimlicher, a Colorado Springs city councilman and GOP member who backed the ballot proposal.

The county GOP's executive committee opposed Referendum C, as did the 12 Republican state lawmakers who represent the area. That placed them at odds with business leaders, real estate brokers and developers, who advocated C's passage as crucial to the local economy.

"This is the power base of the Republican Party," Heimlicher says of the referendum backers.

Party leaders, meanwhile, dismiss the significance of the drop in donations.

"I think [the party] is doing the same as it's always done," says county GOP chair Terry Kunkel.

Rifts and strains

A report filed recently with the county Clerk and Recorder's Office shows the party raised $61,098 over an 11-month period ending Oct. 27. That's down from $66,949 during a similar period in 2003, and $81,608 in 2001.

All three years were "off years," meaning that neither primary nor general elections took place. Party fund-raising typically is lower during such years than during big election years. Money raised is used for campaign costs and maintenance of the GOP's office at 710 S. Tejon St.

County Commissioner Wayne Williams, a former chairman of the county GOP and its current finance chairman, attributes the drop to low attendance at this year's Lincoln Day Dinner, traditionally the party's biggest annual fund-raising event.

Kunkel says donors also have felt the strain of increased demand for charitable contributions, most notably in connection with Hurricane Katrina.

Still, both acknowledged recent rifts within the party.

In addition to Referendum C, members also were bitterly split over last year's county commissioner race in District 2, in which 13 party officers broke ranks to endorse Republican write-in candidate Bob Null instead of the party's official candidate, Douglas Bruce.

The party's decision to endorse a slate of three Republican candidates in this month's Colorado Springs District 11 school board election also was controversial. Some members argued the party shouldn't have become involved in what traditionally had been a nonpartisan race.

The D-11 endorsement "split us up pretty good," says state Rep. Richard Decker, a Republican from Fountain.

Will Temby, president of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, downplays any fallout over Referendum C and says he hasn't heard any talk of decreasing GOP contributions from local business people.

Heimlicher, however, says he expects divisions within the party, and between the party and its backers, to linger. He and other Republicans who backed Referendum C -- from Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera to Gov. Bill Owens -- were subjected to personal attacks denouncing them as traitors against the Republican agenda of cutting taxes and limiting government.

"I don't think the rift is going to be healed anytime soon," Heimlicher says.

-- Terje Langeland

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