A complaint filed today with the Colorado secretary of state accuses a group of secretly funded political operatives of illegally lobbying the state’s redistricting commissioners.
The complaint, filed by former Democratic state lawmaker Stanley Matsunaka, accuses former Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty and former Colorado House and Senate member Greg Brophy, both Republicans, of lobbying the state’s independent redistricting commissioners without formally registering as lobbyists. It also accuses Republican political consultant Alan Philp, along with McNulty and Brophy, of failing to report payment for lobbying activity.
All three are paid by a 501c4 nonprofit group called Colorado Neighborhood Coalition to work on redistricting. Because of the 501c4 status of the group, it's not required to disclose where the group's money came from. When 501c4 nonprofit groups spend in elections, they're called "dark money" groups.
At issue is the transparency required for the once-each-decade political remapping process. In 2018 Colorado voters, like other states' voters in recent years, approved a new independent redistricting commission system, which is being used for the first time this year, and which came with the promise of making the process more public and open. Among a raft of provisions included in the voter-approved system designed to achieve those goals are requirements that anyone who lobbies the redistricting commissioners must register and report their activity.
A Colorado lawmaker looking to protect his political fortunes coached people on their public testimony intended to keep him in power after the current redistricting cycle.
Of the three named in the complain, only Philp has registered as a lobbying for the group. The complaint argues that McNulty and Brophy should also be registered as lobbyists for the organization, and that failing to do so, along with failing to file payment disclosures, constitutes a violation of the lobbying disclosure laws established for the independent redistricting commission system.
"This is just another attempt by partisan Democrats to suppress involvement in a public process," McNulty wrote in an email in response to the complaint. "I am not surprised that they'd dust off an old partisan like Matsunaka to intimidate public participation in a process that the Democrats cannot control."
So far, Philp has reported being paid $2,000 in April by the group. But the complaint accuses him of failing to file more payment disclosures, citing Philps' July and August testimony and letters sent to the commission, as well as a private meeting with a congressional redistricting commissioner in May. The complaint goes through each interaction Philp had with the commissioners at public hearing, in addition to providing as exhibits emails that reference a lunch meeting with Alan Philp, Frank McNulty, Republican Congressional Redistricting Commission Jason Kelly and Alamosa County's Republican county administrator, Gigi Dennis, on May 19.
The complaint claims that Philp needed to report all of his monthly payments from Colorado Neighborhood Coalition individually, not just once in April, and that every interaction with commissioners needed to be disclosed individually, with dollar amounts.
Philp said in response to the complaint that he believes he complied with advice he said he was given by the Secretary of State's Office in April. Philp said they told him that specifying on a single report that he was being paid "$2,000 per month" was sufficient disclosure. But such advice would mean that searching for Alan Philp's name in the secretary of state's online lobbying search tool shows a summary page that displays only $2,000 total, even though Philp has been paid several times that amount.
"The department cannot discuss the details of any pending complaint," Annie Orloff, a Secretary of State's Office spokesperson, said about Philp's explanation and questions about it.
McNulty, the registered agent for the group, has previously said about his and Brophy's obligation to register as lobbyists, that he believes having Philp registered as the formal lobbyist for the organization is sufficient, even if others being paid by the group are organizing people to advocate for specific mapping approaches. Philp, McNulty said, is who directly communicates with the commissioners, even though others paid by the group are doing community outreach, education and awareness.
The complaint hones in on McNulty's characterization of Colorado Neighborhood Coalition's activities, by citing the same emails referencing a lunch meeting where McNulty, Philp, Commissioner Kelly and Dennis were invited, saying it's evidence of direct communication between a commissioner and McNulty. The complaint also cites McNulty's August 18 testimony at a redistricting commission public hearing, saying that because he's paid by Colorado Neighborhood Coalition, his activity needs to be registered as lobbying.
Brophy also met with commissioners, during a public meeting in May, mostly to discuss his experience as a lawmaker working on redistricting 10 years ago, but during the discussion, he also discussed current mapping ideas for the congressional map. The complaint claims that, along with Brophy's encouragement to others to advocate for specific mapping ideas, qualifies as lobbying that is required to be reported.
The complaint was drafted by Mark Grueskin, a Democratic operative, who himself is a registered redistricting lobbyist who works for a 501c4 nonprofit organization called Fair Lines Colorado, which also does not disclose its donors.
The complaint asks the secretary of state to look into the alleged lobbying violations, and if it’s found to be credible, order McNulty and Brophy to register as lobbyists and report all their compensation, as well as to impose penalties.
Amendments Y and Z, which passed in 2018, creating the independent redistricting commission system, included language describing what constitutes redistricting lobbying: “Contract or receive compensation for advocating to the commission, to one or more commissioners, or to nonpartisan staff for the adoption or rejection of any map, amendment to a map, mapping approach, or manner of compliance with any of the mapping criteria.”
The lobbying disclosure is part of the broader transparency measures brought into the redistricting process by Amendments Y and Z.
The amendments further empower the secretary of state to establish detailed rules for how to interpret and apply the lobbying disclosure requirements, as well as to establish the compliance and enforcement mechanisms.
Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s detailed rules go on to define lobbying as the paid effort to “communicate directly or indirectly with a member of a redistricting commission, commission staff or commissions contractors for the purposes of aiding or influencing the redistricting commission on behalf of a client,” which is required to be reported.