Spin Cycles

Laundered money, the shadow of big tobacco, and a blubbering court reporter: The wild trial over Colorado's Amendment 15.

Tymkovich objected to Hill's questions on the basis that the issue of campaign disclosures went beyond the scope of the suit. But in overruling Tymkovich, Sparr made it clear that he thinks such questions go to the heart of the matter. "As far as the public knows, that money came from Colorado Republicans for Choice, and that's all they know. Isn't that right?" he asked Tymkovich.

Tymkovich answered that members of the public could have found out about the source of the contribution by inspecting public records. But Tymkovich was wrong. Without prior knowledge of the connection to Durham's private company, no one who wasn't involved in the transaction would have had any idea where the money had came from. Even Durham admitted under questioning that if he had been doing research on Raudenbush himself, he would have had no way of knowing that the money originated with Republicans for Choice.

There was something else he didn't know, Durham tells Westword: that tobacco companies provided the single biggest share of the money taken in by the Colorado Senate Republican Election Committee in 1996. All Durham would have had to do to find out, however, was take a trip down to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. According to records on file there, the CSREC's biggest single contributor was Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, which gave $20,000 (roughly 10 percent of the PAC's total haul). The committee also took in money from the Tobacco Institute and R.J. Reynolds, though in smaller amounts.

The CSREC's disclosure statement makes no mention of spending money on Raudenbush--or, for that matter, on Colorado Republicans for Choice. But it does reveal a series of checks written to Durham's company. According to that statement, between June 1996 and January 1997 the PAC wrote checks to Durham totaling $80,584.

Just what influence Reynolds and the other tobacco companies may have hoped to exert via such a circuitous system is unclear. Raudenbush, who lost the election, says she had no idea that the money flowing into her campaign--in all, she received $12,000 from Republicans for Choice, by far her largest contribution--had ties to big tobacco. In fact, she says that until the trial, she had no idea the money hadn't come directly from Republicans for Choice.

But Jon Goldin-Dubois, director of Colorado Common Cause, says such seemingly innocuous revelations are significant. "What this means is that the tobacco companies were essentially laundering money through people such as Durham and through PACs," he says. "Even if they were following the law as it was before--which it doesn't look like they were--they still were able to use the old law to intentionally hide the true origins of campaign contributions.

"They are trying to overturn this law," Goldin-Dubois adds, referring to Amendment 15. "But the court case is just illustrating how much we need it."

Republicans weren't the only ones shifting around tobacco money on the sly before Amendment 15 outlawed such hidden contributions. Surprisingly, that bit of information was willingly provided by one of the plaintiffs in the suit, state senator Bill Thiebaut of Pueblo, the only Democratic office holder challenging the measure in court.

Thiebaut testified that R.J. Reynolds had given him $1,000 in 1996 and then told him to forward it to Rocky Germano, a Democratic candidate for a Senate seat from Arvada. Thiebaut says he has no regrets about having hidden the source of the money at Reynolds's request. "It wasn't illegal, and if you don't do things like that, the candidates I want to get elected aren't going to get much money," Thiebaut says, adding that he performed similar transactions for plenty of other fellow Democrats in the days before Amendment 15.

Thiebaut says he thinks Amendment 15 compromises his right to free speech. "I wish I could do more for good Democratic candidates, but right now my hands are pretty much tied," he says.

While the lawyers in the case have been mostly civil to each other, serious bad blood exists between two paid experts who've taken the stand.

Herb Alexander, director of the Citizens' Research Foundation in Los Angeles, was called by the Republicans, and he's already testified in the California trial over Proposition 208. He's also been quoted in most of the nation's major daily papers, usually saying that large contributions have no real influence on politicians.

What Alexander hasn't said is that his research foundation gets money from tobacco companies. This fact, elicited under questioning from Hill, hasn't come out in any of the previous trials in which he's testified, nor has it been revealed in any of the articles in which he's been quoted. But Alexander's foundation is funded in part by Philip Morris, and two members of his board of directors work for the tobacco giant. In response, Alexander says that his board is "diverse," as is his funding base, though he won't say exactly how much of it comes from cigarette makers.

Alexander adds that he "takes umbrage" at the implication that his testimony might somehow be colored by the money he's paid by tobacco companies. "I think it's a low blow to even be asked about that," he says.

But a former student of Alexander's at UCLA, Craig Holman, disagrees. Now an expert who testifies opposite Alexander at similar trials around the country, Holman says, "It's a legitimate question to ask where the money came from."

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