A hard-line Colorado Springs Republican lawmaker known for his incendiary remarks is at odds with his fellow party members over a bill he says is driven by greedy GOP leaders.
Democrats, however, are coming to the rescue and pushed the legislation through its second reading in the House of Representatives on Monday.
“The real issue here, is that you have a bunch of party bosses that love money,” Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, said Monday on the House floor in defense of his House Bill 1046. “This (bill) hurts their ability to extort people. That’s what it is. It’s extortion.”
The bill would prohibit major political parties from preventing delegates or alternates from voting in caucuses or party assemblies unless they hand over what are commonly known as “badge fees.”
Williams and co-sponsor Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, say the bill would eliminate an immoral “pay to play” system and encourage higher voter turnout. But opponents, which include many Colorado Springs-area Republicans, call the bill “sinister” and say it amounts to government overreach and could bankrupt the party.
The House’s approval came after more than an hour of debate and strong opposition from Williams’ home turf. Those opposed included Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs; Rep. Shane Sandridge, R-Colorado Springs; and Rep. Tim Geitner, R-Falcon.
Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, said she partially agrees with Williams and Lontine, but sought in a failed amendment to give parties an option to prove they could not pay for the state-mandated events without the fees.
The House did approve an amendment, however, presented by Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta County, which would apply the bill to all political parties rather than major parties.
Liston supported Soper’s amendment, noting during the debate that Libertarians likely also charge fees to fund their caucuses and assemblies.
The party does sell tickets, said Wayne Harlos, chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, but those charges offer participants increasing levels of access and additional perks at the events. The tickets aren’t tied to whether delegates or alternates are allowed to participate or vote, he said.
“That would be against our principles,” Harlos said.
The House vote came hours after dozens of county GOP leaders across the state signed a petition opposing Williams’ bill.
“This bill is gross government overreach, goes against our tenets of small limited government,” it reads. “We strongly urge lawmakers on both sides of the isle (sic) to strongly oppose this legislation.”
In all, 30 sitting county GOP chairs and two former chairs signed the petition. Republican county parties represented in the petition include El Paso, Denver and Jefferson counties.
It was with the outgoing Denver County Republican Party Chair, Jake Viano, that Williams said he had a heated conversation last month.
“We had a Denver GOP chair actually tell me on the phone that ‘If you can’t afford 50 bucks then ‘F’ you, I don’t want you in my party,’” Williams told the House.
Viano did not respond to messages seeking comment, but in a recent letter to Republicans he criticized Williams for twisting “my words into something they were not.”
Certainly caucuses and assemblies cost money, Landgraf told her colleagues. Without the fees, it’s unclear how state and county Republican parties will finance their events.
“I’m not sure what they’ll do,” Landgraf said. “Because I have no idea how you just magically come up with $24,000, $30,000 or $40,000.”
But Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, reminded the chamber that Democrats don’t charge badge fees and still host the state-mandated events.
“This shouldn’t be a country club,” Melton said. “This should be a political party.”
Other opponents argued that Republican parties are private organizations and thus should not be regulated like Williams’ bill proposes. Several, including outgoing state GOP chair Jeff Hays, have argued that it might be better for individual parties to voluntarily change their own fundraising bylaws rather than relying on government to mandate a change.
It’s rare for those who wish to serve as delegates or alternates to be unable to pay the fees, other opponents have said.