Colorado's political caucuses are often dull affairs--neighborly barn-raising reminders of our state's origins, when the real action now takes place in banks and boardrooms across town.
But the gathering next Tuesday at Loveland's Monroe Elementary promises to be a true barn-burner. That's the caucus where Democratic precinct committeeman Tony Brown is scheduled to preside.
If the Federal Election Commission doesn't get him first.
Or Disney's copyright department.
Or the Larimer County Democrats, who are still reeling from the bomb that Brown's latest escapade has dropped into their relatively quiet community.
Although he's only 29 years old, Anthony Clinton Brown has long been active in Larimer County politics. More active, certainly, than Democratic Party officials there would have liked him to be. Far more active, actually, than party officials ever realized--until they caught sight of Monday's Roll Call, the daily political paper out of Washington, D.C.
Brown made the front page of the paper, under the headline "Club 96: The Unraveling of an Elaborate Hoax." Instead of showing Brown, though, the photograph accompanying the story depicted the child stars of Walt Disney Television's Home Improvement, who play important, if unwitting, roles in Brown's most recent project: a political action committee.
A political action committee that was so spectacularly active in its first three months of operation--reportedly raising over $1.6 million from over 2,000 individuals--that it drew the interest of an FEC investigator as well as a Roll Call reporter. What they found, poring over hundreds of pages of documents filed with the FEC since Club 96 was formed in November 1995, was that the only place the political action committee truly existed was in Tony Brown's mind. The scam was so magnificently loony, so laboriously carried through, that it startled even blas Washington.
The address listed for the PAC leads to the Loveland home of Brown's mother, with whom he has lived for the past several years. The phone number listed on the forms is hers, too, and for the past few days her son somehow has never been around when that phone rings. The names listed for the PAC's officers are real ones, but their owners don't know they've donated them to Brown's cause. They belong to Zachery Ty Bryan, Taran Noah Smith and Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the pubescent stars of Home Improvement.
Washington is full of PACs whose FEC forms bear only a nominal resemblance to the organizations' actual function, whether it's selling books or a particular agenda or Republican candidates. But Brown's makes those look like civic paragons.
"There is no explanation that is going to defend this, because it is indefensible," he told Roll Call. "I'm not going to brag about thisEI did not intent to embarrass any of the political figures involved. I did not intend to embarrass those kids...but I've done something pretty illegal."
Club 96 forms list thousands of real people as contributors, including Representative David Skaggs who, like all the rest, has never heard of the PAC; its filings with the FEC are all signed by one Home Improvement actor or another. One missive, supposedly sent by Zachery Ty Bryan, outlines plans for a "Defeat Newt" mailing. "This letter reviews the failures of the entire freshman class of Republicans and looks to place blame on an accountable individual," it reads. "While Club 96 will be active in Congressional races around the country, including Newt's, we're not prepared to make a financial commitment to anyone in this race. The funds received from this letter will benefit a multitude of candidates that will be determined at some future date."
According to Club 96's filings, however, some candidates had already benefited--including state senator Paul Weissmann, who's up against four other Democrats next Tuesday night in the race for Hank Brown's Senate seat. FEC documents indicate the PAC shelled out $3,125 to a company named "Colorado On-Cue" on Weissmann's behalf.
But that's as phony as everything else. For starters, the Louisville bartender isn't taking any PAC money. "He should have used Tom [Strickland] or Ramona [Martinez]," Weissmann says. "But I'm sort of flattered, in a weird, mythical way."
Weissmann may be the only one.
The Larimer County Democrats have been thrown into a tizzy by Brown's latest antics. They thought they'd settled that little problem years ago, back in 1992, when Brown was the party secretary. According to Beverly Hull, the current chair, Brown "did a very fine job." Except, that is, for one little glitch: He placed unauthorized ads in the local paper and also hired a private investigator without the party's approval.
"At first we thought it was those darn Republicans," Hull recalls. When they learned it was Brown, they asked him to resign.
The next year, though, he was elected committeeman.
And next week they'll have to face him at the precinct caucuses.
When the first calls started coming in from reporters, the Larimer County Democrats held an emergency meeting to discuss their predicament. "None of us have talked with Tony in the last three years," Hull says. "We were surprised and chagrined."
And powerless. "We do not want him to be officially allied with the party," Hull adds. But as they looked into their options, they realized there was no way they could remove Brown from his spot as a precinct committeeman until he'd been convicted of a felony--and even if fraud charges are filed, Brown's still a long way from that.
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In the meantime, next week's caucus meeting stands to be standing room only. "You just search around to find an explanation," says Hull. She remembers that Brown used to work as a DJ--but even the KBPI clowns who invaded a Denver mosque, in the last Colorado prank to make the national press, couldn't pull off something this elaborate.
"A model has a portfolio, an artist has a portfolio. A political organizer has a portfolio," Hull says.
"Too bad he didn't put all that work into a real campaign.