Matt Arnold on losing Colorado Bar Association suit, his bid to chair state Republican party

Matt Arnold, the man behind Clear the Bench, which aimed to throw the bums off the Colorado Supreme Court, has been on a losing streak. Colorado Ethics Watch came out on top in a dispute over whether Clear the Bench should have filed as an issues committee (although CEW was assessed some court costs) -- and now, his complaint against the Colorado Bar Association and others has been dismissed. But he's hoping to turn his luck around with a victory in the race to chair the state's GOP.

As reported by Law Week Colorado, a judge tossed Arnold's CBA-related case earlier this week. He'd claimed the defendants advocated for the retention of justices via a website called and therefore should have faced contribution limits, just as he did. In response, the organizations behind insisted that theirs had been an educational campaign, not one to back specific jurists, and the court agreed.

So, too, does Colorado Ethics Watch. Via e-mail, CEW director Luis Toro writes, "We view this as vindication of our decision not to file a complaint against these groups. Our investigation resulted in the same conclusion the judge reportedly reached: that unlike Clear the Bench, these groups were not urging a vote for or against any judges or justices. It's good to be proven right, again."

Arnold's take? "I got out-lawyered," he says. He credits his opponents with cleverly suppressing some of his evidence, then pushing for a quick summary judgment. But that doesn't mean he's happy about the results.

"We can mark down March 8, 2011 as the day when the campaign finance law in Colorado was eviscerated," he says, "because the method they used will be used by other people going forward. These guys basically decided the rules didn't apply to them, or they were clever enough to outwit them."

Not that Arnold has time to lick his wounds. He's in the heat of his campaign to chair the Colorado Republican Party in the wake of current boss Dick Wadhams's decision not to run again for the position. He'll face at least four other hopefuls: state senator Ted Harvey, state legal council Ryan Call, current party vice-chair Leondray Gholston and Bart Baron, a recent transplant from Michigan. And while he concedes that in most years, "I wouldn't stand a chance," he feels that technical changes in the process give him a legitimate shot. He also thinks he's been assisted by fallout from the last election, when Republicans failed to win the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat in a year when conservative candidates clearly had the upper hand nationwide.

"We've seen a lot of turnover at the county leadership level," he points out, "and a lot of them are not long-term, old-school people. They're willing to look at things in a fresh light. They don't want this to be your grandfather's GOP anymore -- and they recognize that if we keep doing things the way we've been doing them, we'll have the same results: i.e., Republicans lose."

The chairman choice will be made on March 26 at a central-committee meeting in Castle Rock, with about 300 folks making their preferences known. At that point, Arnold will know if he'll have a big win to counter his recent string of defeats.

More from our Politics archive: "Clear the Bench's Matt Arnold: Court win for CO Ethics Watch a victory for big $ over little guy."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts