U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, who is running to head the Colorado Republican Party, now ranks among the few Republicans in Colorado supporting a state bill that fellow party members say has the potential to bankrupt the party.
The bill comes from state Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, and would prohibit political parties from preventing delegates or alternates from voting in caucuses or party assemblies unless they cough up what are commonly known as "badge fees."
Despite outcry from state and county Republican officials, the bill was unanimously approved by the House Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Tuesday.
Williams, a member of that committee, was joined in his support by fellow Republicans on the committee, Reps. Stephen Humphrey of Eaton and Janice Rich of Grand Junction. Democratic state Rep. Susan Lontine, another member of the committee, co-sponsored the bill.
But other Republican Party county chairs, in and outside of that committee meeting, say the bill would drastically cut the party's ability to pay for caucuses and assemblies, required by the state but unfunded. The bill has the potential to bankrupt state and local GOP groups, they said.
Colorado Republican Party Chair Jeff Hays also spoke out against the bill and said Williams’ approach was disconcerting.
Only Republican delegates and alternates must pay the fees, which range from a few bucks to $70 per assembly and often compound. Democrats use money from party donors instead.
And now Buck, who is vying to succeed Hays as state party chair, is behind Williams’ bill.
“It’s vital to our party and to our democracy that we break down the barriers to participation in our political process,” Buck told Colorado Politics in a statement. “Mandatory fees to attend political party conventions represent a modern poll tax that potentially discourages participation. Our party conventions and nomination process should be open to all.”
Williams has maintained that most Republicans will remain willing to pay the badge fees even if his bill passes and they’re no longer required to cough up the cash. And by removing that financial barrier, Republicans should be able to increase participation, he said.
Despite a hefty opposition within his own party, Williams said in a release he is grateful for Buck’s support.
House Majority Leader Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver, said he agrees with Williams’ approach.
“Representative Williams has identified a 21st-century poll tax that could dissuade an individual from running for office,” he said.
Passing the bill would indeed remove the financial barriers Republican delegates and alternatives currently face, Garnett said.
Although Williams might be considered an unlikely ally, Garnett said he’s happy to cooperate the bill, other Democrats will also likely support.
Rep. Susan Beckman, R-Littleton, is also vying for the state party chair position, but couldn't immediately be reached for comment.