A local conservative organization is charging that Democrat Levi Tillemann is only pretending to be weighing a bid for Congress and has demanded the Aurora resident make his campaign official. But the former Obama administration official insists he’s staying “well within the boundaries” of federal election law and plans to decide soon whether or not to join an already crowded primary field for the chance to challenge U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in next year’s election.

Compass Colorado Executive Director Kelly Maher said Tillemann’s online fundraising haul — he’s raised more than $11,000 and secured additional pledges topping $28,000 pending an announcement — since launching an exploratory committee in early May means Tillemann “has clearly passed the phase of testing the waters” and should file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. (The CrowdPAC fundraising page for Tillemann’s exploratory committee no longer displayed total raised on Tuesday afternoon but showed $11,239 raised from 33 contributions late last week.)

“Mr. Tillemann-Dick’s choice to violate FEC rules is an affront to citizens in the 6th Congressional District, and he needs to be held accountable”, Maher said in a statement. “Either he follows the law, or he should return the money gained by his exploratory committee to his supporters.”

While FEC rules generally require an individual to register as a congressional candidate after raising or spending more than $5,000, they exempt potential candidates who are testing the waters but haven’t started actively campaigning, and that’s a line Tillemann maintains he hasn’t crossed.

“We’ve done a lot of work to make sure if we do decide to run, we’ll be ready,” Tillemann told The Colorado Statesman. “Nobody told me to run. It’s not about me, it’s about my neighborhood, my community and my country. I want to make sure they’re all on board.”

He added that he’ll “probably make a final decision” by the end of June.

Maher called Tillemann’s explanation “too-cute-by-half garbage” and accused the Democrat of trying to take advantage of a crack in FEC regulations.

“He’s clearly running, and he’s also clearly trying to exploit the way this is written,” Maher told The Statesman. “Exploratory committees exist for people who are really questioning the viability of a run, not for people to use to bank as much money as possible without disclosure, build a campaign, then just pull the trigger.”

Tillemann brushed aside Maher’s attack.

“When the Republicans are trying to take health care way from kids with cancer, this is a stupid thing to be focused on,” he told The Statesman.

If he does jump in, Tillemann will be the fourth Democrat in the race, joining Jason Crow, an attorney and Army combat veteran; David Aarestad, an attorney and former Cherry Creek School District board candidate; and Gabriel McArthur, a Bernie Sanders supporter and Sanders delegate to last year’s Democratic National Convention.

Coffman, an Aurora Republican, is serving his fifth term representing the suburban swing district, which includes Aurora and parts of Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties on the east side of the Denver metro area.

Tillemann said he’s been in touch with FEC officials and been told he has some leeway — in part because the conservative Americans for Prosperity organization spent millions of dollars to oppose last year’s Democratic nominee in the battleground district.

“If Coffman had not attracted so much money from fossil fuel interests and out-of-state donors, it might be a different situation, but considering the numbers posted in 2016, we are well within the boundaries of what’s acceptable for an exploratory committee,” Tillemann told The Colorado Statesman. “Compass Colorado is either uninformed or dishonest in its criticisms.”

Coffman challenger former Senate President Morgan Carroll was the only congressional candidate targeted in 2016 by AFP, which launched an all-out door-to-door offensive against the Aurora Democrat. Carroll lost to Coffman by about 7 points even as Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the vote within the district by roughly 12 points.

Maher dismissed Tillemann’s portrayal of the situation.

“This is all a posturing move,” she said. “It’s a shady way to go about it, and he should just be honest and file.”

ernest@coloradostatesman.com

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