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Dick Wadhams: Amendment 54 deserved to die -- and so do other campaign-reform measures

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Colorado Republican Party boss Dick Wadhams isn't shy about speaking plainly. Note that as other leaders were tip-toeing around the controversy involving Governor Bill Ritter and his U.S. Attorney nominee, Stephanie Villafuerte, Wadhams called them both liars.

Neither does he mince words concerning Amendment 54, a voter-approved measure banning campaign contributions from many major government contractors, which the Colorado Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional yesterday.

"Anytime we can remove any restrictions from people engaging in the political process, I think that's good," Wadhams says, adding, "I strongly believe we ought to get rid of these stupid campaign reform laws both federally and at the state level, and allow any contribution from any entity at any time."

How to avoid abuse of such a system? Says Wadhams: "Just have full, timely and immediate disclosure. The public is smart enough to figure this out."

Given his slant, it's hardly surprising that Wadhams also enjoyed the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in January removing corporate spending limits established at the federal level by legislation known as McCain-Feingold, named for Republican John McCain and Democrat Russ Feingold.

"I thought that ruling was good because it further eliminates a barrier," Wadhams says. "That's my philosophy. Anything that moves the ball further down the field, I'm for. And ultimately, I think it serves the public's interests."

Of course, people who've decried these rulings feel just the opposite, believing that knocking over these obstacles means big money players will be able to drown out the average citizen, forcing politicians and officials to kowtow to their wishes.

In Wadhams's view, that's malarkey.

"Anytime we reform campaign laws, it makes the system more unaccountable -- and frankly, it makes it dirtier," he maintains. "It allows the wealthiest to play a bigger role than they would otherwise. The campaign laws favor people like George Soros and Tim Gill and Pat Stryker" -- three prominent, ultra-rich donors to liberal candidates and causes.

An example?

"This is the situation we're in now," he begins. "Take a state senate candidate -- let's call him Jeff Jones. He can take $400 from an individual, period. And I can give him something like $18,000 from the Colorado Republican Party. In the meantime, Tim Gill or Pat Stryker can fund these 527s" -- tax-exempt organizations that are used to get around federal and state campaign restrictions -- "and they can slap on a nice name, like the Committee for Good Government, and spend several hundred thousand dollars, if not a million dollars, attacking him. And the voter has no idea what the Committee for Good Government is.

"If the Colorado Republican Party puts out an ad, people know who to hold accountable. They know who we are, how to reach us; we've got an office. And if Jeff Jones sends out a piece of mail or puts out a radio ad, the people know they can hold Jeff Jones accountable. But right now, we're moving more and more money from these wealthy individuals, plus corporate money and union money, into these 527s. And it prostitutes the process."

Despite these negative characterizations, Wadhams admits to a grudging respect for liberal groups that have made 527s work for them.

"Remember the infamous Trailhead?" he asks, referencing a the Trailhead Group, a conservative political fundraising organization that was especially active during the 2006 campaign. "The mistake Republicans made was in consolidating everything into one master organization -- because it became an easy target. Meanwhile, the same Democrats who attacked Trailhead as some evil monstrosity did something very different. They set up many different 527s, and it was hard to track all the different organizations and amounts of money running through them. Their model was successful. Trailhead wasn't."

Now, with decisions like the ones in Colorado and Washington D.C., such gamesmanship will be less necessary, Wadhams feels. And he'd like developments to continue moving in this direction.

"I think McCain-Feingold will be chipped away at, and Amendment 27" -- another Colorado measure, dubbed the Fair Campaign Practices Act -- "will be chipped away at. And we'll move closer to where I think we ought to be. Because anytime I hear somebody who wants to save the world by passing more campaign reform, all they do is make the system worse."

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