A beautiful day greeted the citizens of Colorado the Saturday before the election. The skies were clear and the sun pushed the temperature to nearly 70 degrees.
It would surely be the last nice warm day of the year in Denver. While many people chose to spend that last warm day of the year outside, near the old Stapleton airport, about 50 activists showed up at the Embassy Suites for a rally for Republican candidates, including Cory Gardner.
The event ran almost two hours. It featured singers and speakers. They included two men who were American security contractors at Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. They talked about how Sen. Mark Udall called the incident where four Americans were killed, the biggest “non-issue.”
Other speakers talked about everything from the importance of electing Mr. Gardner to issues such as fighting the Democrats’ attempt to reauthorize the Wind Power Production Tax Credit.
This campaign rally was not put on by Cory Gardner for Senate or even by the Republican Party.
The Conservative Campaign Committee put on this rally.
The Conservative Campaign Committee (CCC) is not a household name. In fact, few have ever heard of it. The CCC, as they like to refer to themselves, is a traditional political action committee.
Joe Wierzbicki, CCC’s executive director, is 40 years old and a veteran of politics and the Tea Party. “Traditionally, political consultants worked for candidates, but now political action committees are free to work for causes, like advancing conservatism,” he explains in the Glenwood Springs command post he has set up with his team as they feverishly work the last few days before the Colorado Senate election on Nov. 4th. The CCC grew out of his idea of working for causes and the ideas he believes in, instead of working for individual candidates.
Political action committees have come under attack in recent months. Headlines have screamed that these groups are giving almost nothing to candidates, but continually begging for money.
“That’s an easy sound bite,” says Ryan Gill, 28, the president of the CCC. “We do send checks to candidates, but the big service we do is providing campaign services that complement the candidate’s campaign. We do something different from the campaign.”
Lloyd Marcus agrees. At 66, he is the chairman of the CCC and, as he puts it, “a proud, unhyphenated American.” He says, “We are the voice of the people. We provide the voice for that person who can only contribute $5.”
Mr. Marcus is a veteran Tea Party activist. As a singer, he has performed at many Tea Party rallies and events and in 2009, wrote “The American Tea Party Anthem.”
Former Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook also agrees with the assessment. “A candidate’s opinion of a PAC is almost never based on principle but on whether they support or oppose the candidate,” he said.
The CCC at this point has been in Colorado for several weeks, organizing rallies, and placing ads on TV, radio and online.
In Colorado, the efforts seem to be paying off. Democratic Sen. Mark Udall had a significant lead over Mr. Gardner earlier this year. Now that lead has evaporated.
Colorado is not the only state that the CCC is active in. In Michigan, CCC is the only group, other than the Land Campaign itself, that is running TV ads in support of Terri Lynn Land as she tries to pull that Senate seat away from the Democrats.
In New Mexico, a more telling story appeared. Another Udall, Tom Udall, was expected to easily cruise to re-election as the senator from New Mexico. Yet in the days before the election, his double-digit lead over Allen Weh has shrunk to as little as four points.
The CCC has gone into New Mexico when no other group will to help Mr. Weh.
According to the CCC’s Mr. Gill, many political groups today are risk adverse. They will not step outside of their comfort zone while independent expenditure PACs will try new things.
The Denver rally has been going on for more than 90 minutes. But the best speaker is about to come onto the stage.
The audience had been on its feet earlier for a Lloyd Marcus performance now sits is absolute silence as they hear from Mark Geist. One of the security operators at Benghazi on the fateful night of Sept. 11, 2012, Mr. Geist was one of the men who violated orders and went to help Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Mr. Geist lives in Colorado, and he was outraged when he heard Mr. Udall refer to Benghazi as the biggest “non-issue” being discussed today. The CCC rally and other activities have given Mr. Geist a platform to speak about this issue.
Mr. Wierzbicki says the purpose of PACs like his is to “promote a conservative agenda, not a party.”
Because of independent expenditure PACs, issues that might get pushed to the side and forgotten about get heard by the voters. At the rally on Saturday, voters heard about several issues, including the fight on the renewal of the Wind Power Production Tax Credit. The crowd was warned that this was just a subsidy for wealthy billionaires like Warren Buffett. That is a message that neither candidates nor the Republican Party is talking about. Only PACs are bringing issues like this to the people.
Critics still remain. Many of the criticisms of PACs deal with the cost of their overhead. Mr. Istook is not bothered by this. “Any time you raise money in small pieces from smaller donors you have significant overhead because it costs more to reach out to 100,000 donors than it does one or two,” he said.
The choice is simple. Either allow a lot of people to make small contributions or see political giving restricted to high-dollar donors. According to Mr. Istook, “That means anytime you raise money from everyday people, there is no alternative to high overhead. Only those who raise money from the big money donors can keep down the percentage of contributions that goes to overhead.
“That is always what gets lost in these complaints,” Mr. Istook said.
The Denver rally ended and on Sunday clouds, rain and snow came to parts of Colorado. The race in Colorado and in the nation will go down to the wire. If the polls are right, Mr. Gardner will defeat Mr. Udall in Colorado and that state may start turning red again.
The CCC, as well as other PACs, are making their final push in Colorado. Which party will control the U.S. Senate is a question that may not be answered until January.
With the strong possibility that two races will go to runoffs, Louisiana in December and Georgia in January, the CCC and other independent expenditure PACs will still be busy in the next few months.