Election transparency overdue

(Denver Post, Dec. 5) What is CoDA? If you said a rock group, a wonder drug, or a state agency, you’re wrong. It’s the Colorado Democracy Alliance, today’s smartphone successor to the old dialup state Democratic Party. CoDA’s coup in turning Colorado blue is related in this year’s most important political book, “The Blueprint,” by Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer. What is infrastructure? If you said the streets and sewers in our cities, or the shovel-ready projects in Obama’s imagination, wrong again. It’s the stealthy political network of message groups, ethics watchdogs, litigators, voter registration cadres, and money conduits that the left wins with while the right eats their dust. Ken Buck and Tom Tancredo have said infrastructure was one reason they lost. What reduced Scott McInnis from favorite to fiasco overnight? If you said investigative journalism, or Maes’s magic, or Scott’s own bumbling, nope. Infrastructure operatives dug up the McInnis plagiarism story, then CoDA groups spent $500,000 on TV ads alerting Republican voters. Maes nominated, Tancredo in play, Hick in control, game over.

All of this is quite legal. But Schrager, a 9News reporter, and Witwer, a former GOP legislator, explain in their book that CoDA hoped to remain a secret forever. A leak from whistle-blower Isaac Smith, a young idealist who was “fed up with both parties,” in his words, ended the secrecy in 2008. Yet too many in my party are still sidetracked on vetting fantasies or RINO name-calling, when they ought to be memorizing “The Blueprint” and organizing to fight back.

CoDA’s godfathers include billionaire Tim Gill, who boasted to The Atlantic in 2007, “They won’t know what hit them,” and propagandist Michael Huttner, who correctly predicted to Schrager and Witwer that “Colorado’s progressive infrastructure will work as a buttress” to limit the damage here in 2010, regardless of Dem losses elsewhere. They still want a low profile for their brainchild; Huttner wouldn’t comment for this story.

Yet much as we’re soothingly told, Oz-fashion, to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” there are two important reasons why everyone in Colorado should gain a working knowledge of the CoDA infrastructure and the new electoral landscape. Both are American as apple pie, nonpartisan as Li’l Abner: a fair fight and good government.

Unless conservatives climb back to parity with liberals’ sophisticated machinery, in this era when campaign laws have neutered the old party organizations, we’ll keep losing the biggest races to candidates like Michael Bennett and John Hickenlooper who care little for limited government or free markets. We’ll see GOP newcomers like Congressman Cory Gardner and Treasurer Walker Stapleton beleaguered with infrastructure attacks from their first day in office. Not fair.

And unless all of us as citizens, left, right, and center, equip ourselves with honest awareness of who is doing what to whom, we’ll be left with that uneasy feeling of suckers at a carnival shell game. When Democratic dollars tip Republican primaries for Maes in Colorado and Sharon Angle in Nevada, it smells corrupt, even if legal. Not good.

Such manipulation ultimately endangers America. As former Gov. Dick Lamm, himself a Democrat, wrote in recommending the Schrager-Witwer book, CoDA presages a brave new world “where winning is everything and there is no moral bottom line.” Do we want that?

“It was unethical at best,” Isaac Smith says of the CoDA scheming he stumbled upon as a Bighorn Center intern. “And so hypocritical,” he adds, what with his employers’ sanctimonious advocacy of Amendment 41 and the talk of getting big money out of politics. Out of sight, maybe; but hardly out.

You hear about government transparency, where spending is in plain sight. Shouldn’t we also have election transparency and open politics? Read “The Blueprint” over the coming holidays. It will wise you up for the razzle-dazzle of 2011.