Donation came with strings, candidate says
GOP honcho delivered checks, got contracts
Two District 51 School Board candidates say there were “no strings attached” to $5,000 campaign checks they each received from Greenwood Village billionaire C. Edward McVaney earlier this month.
A third local candidate who received a $5,000 donation from McVaney as well, however, disagrees.
McVaney, a major donor to Douglas County School Board elections in 2009 and 2011 and a contributor to the construction of private Douglas County school Valor Christian High, a candidate for Douglas County’s voucher system until a lawsuit temporarily halted the program, has not met the Grand Valley candidates or talked to them directly about the contributions. Instead, Mark Baisley, the Littleton-based vice chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and owner of campaign consultation and materials design service Odd November, LLC, hand-delivered the checks “about two weeks ago” to Mesa County Republican Women-endorsed District 51 candidates Pat Kanda, Mike Lowenstein and John Sluder at a single meeting in Grand Junction. Baisley said he also discussed campaign strategy and services during the meeting.
Baisley told The Daily Sentinel Wednesday McVaney recommended the candidates use Baisley’s Odd November for campaign consultation and mailer-creation services “because he’s seen us do good work before” with the election of conservative Douglas County School Board candidates, according to Baisley, who also served as chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party from 2010 to 2013. The Odd November owner insisted McVaney did not make working with Baisley a requirement in order for candidates to get their $5,000 checks.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Here’s some funding’ and another to say, ‘Here’s some precious funds I’ve worked hard for, please spend them wisely.’ He (McVaney) said these are the desires of the donors, that you work with this group that’s been successful in the past. They didn’t have to,” Baisley said.
Kanda cashed or received his check from McVaney on Oct. 2, according to an Oct. 15 campaign report, while Sluder and Lowenstein listed Oct. 7 as the day they got or deposited their $5,000 checks. All listed an $875 expenditure with Odd November on Oct. 8 for postcard design. Baisley said “tens of thousands” of the postcards will be mailed to Mesa County households as soon as this week and will feature all three candidates.
Kanda said he wasn’t sure of the relationship between McVaney and Baisley, whose name he couldn’t pinpoint but who he identified by a photo. Kanda said he doesn’t “recall ever asking why we got the checks,” but he said he was told to send money to Odd November because leg work had already begun on the mailers. He said he was told he could spend a certain amount of the $5,000 on any campaign expense he wanted but he had to send “the balance to Odd November because those were the strings.”
“The gentleman I talked to said, ‘Here’s the check, the printer’s lined up, we’ll be sending you invoices, you just have to write them a check,” Kanda said.
Lowenstein remembers the details differently. He said he was approached by someone from Denver about McVaney’s intent to contribute to his campaign and spent an hour on the phone with that person “to make sure there were no strings attached.” Lowenstein declined to identify the person he talked to but said it was someone from the Denver area. When asked about Baisley, he said the name “does not ring any bells,” although he knew Odd November was “doing work for our campaign.”
“I don’t know how they were picked but I got a letter saying these are some of the people supporting your campaign,” Lowenstein said, adding he was told Odd November was working on printed materials and that he was asked to pay for them if he was able to.
Lowenstein said he does not see a distinction between printing services his campaign requested from Grand Junction-based companies Adams Lightning Quick Print and Precision Promotional Group, LLC and the services from Odd November.
“If someone prints something and it’s reasonable, I pay them, just as I did with local printing,” he said. “I would like to know how the union managed to do their printing.”
Lowenstein was referring to teacher representation group Mesa Valley Education Association making an in-kind donation of a total of $1,228.26 for postcards and postage for materials the association printed on their own to promote District 51 School Board candidates Greg Mikolai, Tom Parrish and John Williams. MVEA President Darren Cook said those postcards were sent by teachers to friends and focused on the teacher recommending Mikolai, Parrish and Williams.
Sluder did not respond to phone calls this week but said last week he made sure there were no strings attached to McVaney’s contribution before he accepted the check.
Loveland, Greeley candidates are clients
Baisley said he has known McVaney since 2002 and got to know him better while Baisley chaired the Douglas County Republican Party. Baisley, according to his website, baisley.org, lists “led Douglas County Schools reform elections” among his accomplishments.
McVaney contributed a total of $20,000 to conservative candidates in Douglas County’s school board race in 2009 and donated another $30,000 to Douglas County School Board candidates in 2011. The seven Douglas County candidates were the only school board candidates McVaney contributed to in those years.
This year, McVaney gave $5,000 apiece to Sluder, Kanda and Lowenstein as well as three Thompson School Board candidates in Loveland: Rocci Bryan, Carl Langner and Donna Rice. Bryan, Langner and Rice spent $375 apiece on “postcard design and voter data targeting” from Odd November, according to campaign expenditure reports, and each paid $1,250 for consulting work from Odd November.
Odd November, incorporated July 29, according to Secretary of State records, has had just one other client: Steve Hall, a candidate for Weld County School District 6 School Board in Greeley. Hall is a conservative who owns oil and gas industry service-provider Trinity Energy Solutions, Inc. in Garden City, according to his campaign’s Facebook page.
Baisley said he is working on mailers, consultation and robo-calls for all of his current clients. Odd November will handle postcard design, photography and postage for campaign materials, he said, while a printer and Letters Plus will handle printing and addressing and appear separately on campaign reports. Candidates announced campaign expenses through Oct. 10 last week and will report expenses through Oct. 27 in a Nov. 1 report.
Baisley said he heard about candidates on the Western Slope in District 51 because he’s “in the biz.”
“I know people around the state hoping to have candidates on school boards that best reflect the community” the boards are in, Baisley said. He added there are “a dozen school boards across the state with which we align philosophically,” but McVaney decided to donate to candidates that had a good chance of winning conservative votes.
Opponents in school board race react
Mikolai, Sluder’s opponent in the District E race, questioned how Lowenstein could say there are strings attached to the $3,000 MVEA donated to his campaign, along with $877.59 in in-kind donations of polling, campaign pens, and the above-mentioned postcards but not to McVaney’s $5,000 donation.
“It’s so shady-sounding it’s bizarre. At least I’m straightforward about MVEA and working with them,” Mikolai said, adding he had no input on the association’s postcards.
Referring to McVaney and Baisley, Mikolai said, “They don’t know this county, they don’t know who we are. MVEA is 900 teachers who live here and work here.”
In District D, Lowenstein’s opponent, Tom Parrish, said he doesn’t know exactly how conversations between McVaney, Baisley and District 51 candidates have transpired, so he will not comment too specifically. But he did say the connections between all three groups “maybe in an off-hand way speak to partisanship being involved” in the election.
District C candidate John Williams, who is running against Kanda, did not respond to calls for comment. District C candidate Lonnie White is not actively campaigning and does not respond to media calls.