Tancredo's opportunism leaves politicos unhappy
Becoming a major political party in the state wasn’t the smartest thing the American Constitution Party has done in recent years, its chairman admits.
But that wasn’t its first mistake, party chairman Douglas Campbell said.
That happened when it trusted former congressman Tom Tancredo.
It started just after the primaries in 2010, when Republican Dan Maes won the GOP nomination over Scott McInnis for the right to run against Democrat John Hickenlooper for governor.
At the time, the American Constitution Party had a candidate of its own, vice party chairman Ben Goss.
When Maes rejected Tancredo’s call for him to step aside so another candidate could face Hickenlooper because Tancredo didn’t believe the GOP nominee had the wherewithal to defeat the Democrat, the former GOP congressman did something unexpected in state gubernatorial politics.
He left the Grand Old Party and registered with the American Constitutional Party, the smallest of the three minor parties in the state.
Tancredo did so with the blessing of Campbell and Goss, who stepped aside as the party’s candidate.
Campbell said he agreed to the deal because he favors Tancredo’s stance on just about everything, and he had hoped to use the well-known politician to boost his party’s profile — and its membership.
“Tom had told us that he was willing to stick with the party after the election and help us campaign for our presidential candidate in the following (2012) election,” Campbell said from his Arvada office. “But, boom, right after the (2010) election he went right back to the Republican Party, as impotent as the Republican Party has turned out to be over the last several years.
“Yeah, it was very disappointing,” Campbell added. “We were excited that he was interested in us, but it turned out that interest seemed to be pretty much self-serving for what he could get out of it.”
Tancredo, who’s running for governor again but this time as a Republican, said his short stint with the American Constitution Party was based on mutual benefit: to give him access to the ballot that year and allow the party to become a major player in the state.
By law, a party is considered a major party if it earns 10 percent or more of the vote in a governor’s race. That year, Hickenlooper won 51 percent, Tancredo earned 36 percent and Maes won nearly 11 percent.
But what Campbell later realized was that being a major party isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially for a party that collects little in campaign donations.
“Near as I can tell, we haven’t gotten any benefit at all from becoming a major party,” Campbell said. “It’s a title that doesn’t have any substance to it. We had a perfectly good system that worked just fine before.”
Not only does the law require the party to file far more campaign finance reports than it had to before, but it also must run caucus meetings in the nearly 3,000 precincts in the state and hold a state convention. That’s a difficult task given the party doesn’t have registered voters in all of the state’s 64 counties, must less every precinct, Campbell said.
Still, for last year’s presidential election the party did manage to pull it off, though primarily in people’s homes and whatever free rooms it could find.
While the two other major parties deal in the thousands and millions of dollars, Campbell said his is lucky to deal in “tens of dollars.”
According to the party’s campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, the party has $193.
But because the party wasn’t used to filing the greater number of campaign reports major parties are required to do, it was late seven times.
Each late filing drew a $50 fine, only one of which was waived by the state.
That means the party owes $300 in fines, all of which have already been turned over to collections proceedings.
“The whole finance thing is a pile of poo-poo,” Campbell said. “Basically what they are doing is taking the position that the Democrats and the Republicans are the only people affected by their silly system. The Democrats and the Republicans have enough money to hire the people to do the books. We have volunteers.”
Currently, Campbell’s party has more than 6,000 registered voters, but the last time anyone donated money to it was back in March.
That was Campbell, who donated $300.
“I’ve been basically supporting the party,” he said. “We don’t have a treasury, we have a paupery.”
The party is part of the national Constitution Party and has affiliate parties in all 50 states.
According to the national party’s website, its platform centers on a strict interpretation of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bible and the Bill of Rights.
Campbell had hoped that once people learned of its principles, more people would register with the party, particularly in a time when an increasing number of voters are becoming dissatisfied with both parties, he said.
“Our biggest problem in that regard is the fact that people who put together debates and opportunities for speaking still exclude us,” Campbell said. “It has been a challenge all the way along to fit into the niche of a major party for little to no benefit.”