The O. Zone

Gessler mess should rekindle scrutiny of Western Tradition Partnership in Colorado

By David O. Williams
Real AspenNovember 13, 2012

On Election Day two years ago, Colorado voters bucked national Tea Party trends and elected a Democratic governor and U.S. senator. But, almost as a consolation prize, Coloradans picked a lot of Republicans for down-ballot offices like treasurer and secretary of state.

The SOS position went to former conservative election lawyer Scott Gessler, basically handing over the henhouse to the fox. Two years of nothing but controversy ensued, and now the fallout is fully beginning to be felt with the Denver district attorney on Monday opening an investigation into Gessler on the same day the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission voted to look into Gessler’s use of state funds to attend a partisan political event.

On Election Day 2012 there is a growing sense of disgust among voters in swing states like Colorado, where millions of dollars of so-called “dark money” from super PACs and “social welfare group” have been pumped into wave after wave of hyper-negative campaign ads. The donors behind such groups enjoy secrecy in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and clearly people on both sides of the political aisle are losing faith in our entire “Democratic” process. Corporations, more than ever, seem to be picking our leaders.

But back to Gessler. His former Denver law firm, the one he actually wanted to continue to work for while serving as secretary of state, has been driving the steady erosion of campaign transparency and election ethics for years, including registering a social welfare group that has become the poster child for all that’s wrong with our political system.

During that same 2010 election, state Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Snowmass Democrat who now represents the Vail Valley after redistricting, was the target of some of the nastiest ads in what was a particularly bitter mid-term election. The ads were produced by a group called Western Tradition Partnership

That same group, originally registered by Republican political operative Scott Shires of Aurora, was later re-registered by Gessler’s old law firm, Hackstaff Gessler. The ensuing controversy led to calls for tougher state campaign transparency laws.

Western Tradition Partnership, now known as American Tradition Partnership, was instrumental in striking down a century-old Montana election law meant to curtail the influence of the mining and railroad industries in local elections. That law was thrown out in the wake of Citizens United, largely because of the legal maneuvering of American Tradition Partnership (ATP).

The group also became the target of an investigation by the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices for questionable campaign mailers in state legislative races. All the while the group continued to beat the drum for big oil and against environmental “extremism,” even as ExxonMobil fouled the Yellowstone River in 2011.

But now it appears that ATP may have misled the Internal Revenue Service when it registered in Montana as a social-welfare nonprofit because it allegedly was coordinating with candidates and campaigning for particular candidates and issues, according to a joint ProPublica and PBS Frontline investigation.

A Montana judge on Friday ordered many of ATP’s documents to be made public, including lists of donors. Now ATP, which started in Colorado and has Gessler’s fingerprints all over it, should be looked into more closely in this state. And hopefully, state lawmakers will once again consider legislation to start cleaning up some of the mess the U.S. Supreme Court has made.

However you feel about climate change, the environment and Schwartz's advocacy for renewable energy, voters on the Western Slope don't like millions of dollars from undisclosed outside groups (ATP actually offices in suburban Virginia) attempting to influence our local and statewide elections.

If nothing else, maybe courts releasing lists of donors will help to curtail some of the dark money currently fouling the American political process. And perhaps Colorado voters will be a little wiser next time they pick a secretary of state.

comments: 1 Comment on "Gessler mess should rekindle scrutiny of Western Tradition Partnership in Colorado"

mfntrouble – Jan. 16, 2013, at 4:38 a.m.

Hello, my name is Mark Seibel. I am the person responsible for exposing the documents examined by Fronline In the documentary.."Big sky Big money".

I am writing you because I would like to ask for your assistance. I exposed WTP because it was the right thing to do. I may only be described as a homeless convicted felon, but there is a lot more to myself and my story than meets the eye.
The WTP scandal was not the first such situation I exposed. In 2006 there was a story written in part about me relating to the neglect of the mentally ill in Colorado's prison system.
At the same time as the release of the documents concerning WTP, I also was responsible for the investigation and arrest of the 19 year elected sheriff and HIV infected child predator, Patrick Sullivan.

Throughout this time I have been struggling to have my voice heard. I actually was under the impression that the man I surrendered the WTP documents to, Alan Schwartz, Husband of Colorado Senator Gail Schwartz, as well as Colorado Senator Morgan Carroll were to provide assistance in resolving my issue. My situation being described by one para-legal familiar with the case as " the most well documented case of systematic abuse ever seen"

Of course like with these other incidents, I can provide documentary evidence to substantiate my claims. Unfortunately once I had surrendered the WTP files, my situation was no longer relevant.
This situation remains relevant to me however, amounting to a life or death struggle against the omni powerful Colorado government. I work alone. Nobody has aided me in these endeavors. Because of this fact I fear for my safety, not only from malicious prosecution but also my physical safety.

If you can think of an advocacy group, a law firm, a politician or a watchdog group that can assist me, I would be eternally grateful.

Please forward any ideas or responses to my e-mail. I will include links to some of the stories I mentioned above. Thank you, Sincerely,
Mark Jason Seibel

Comment Form Info  Comment Information
Real Aspen encourages you to post comments on our articles and blogs. Logged in email is required for monitoring purposes. Your email will not be published and will not be distributed to any third-party. Abusive, obscene, profane, threatening, libelous or defamatory comments are prohibited. By posting a comment, you agree to this policy and our terms of use. To report an abusive posting, please contact us.

To make a comment, please log in or create an account. This helps us prevent spam and other malicious attacks.

Please log in to comment


Create a user account to comment

Snow Report

  24hr snow mid dpth snow cond.
A-Basin n/a n/a
Aspen n/a n/a closed
BC n/a n/a closed
Breckenridge n/a n/a closed
Buttermilk n/a n/a closed
Copper n/a n/a closed
Crest. Butte n/a n/a closed
Eldora n/a n/a closed
Heavenly n/a n/a closed
Highlands n/a n/a
Howelsen n/a n/a closed
Keystone n/a n/a closed
Kirkwood n/a n/a closed
Loveland n/a n/a
Monarch n/a n/a closed
Northstar n/a n/a closed
Powderhorn n/a n/a closed
Purgatory n/a n/a closed
Silverton n/a n/a closed
Ski Cooper n/a n/a closed
Ski Granby n/a n/a closed
Snowmass n/a n/a closed
Steamboat n/a n/a closed
Sunlight n/a n/a closed
Telluride n/a n/a closed
Vail n/a n/a closed
WinterPark n/a n/a closed
Wolf Creek n/a n/a closed
More Weather Reports
Vail powder day snow snake
Airing it out at Crested Butte
Feb. 17, 2011 Surprise 14 inches of Fresh Powder