‘Strong base of support’
Leis declined to identify the members of WTP’s board or give details on its membership, although he said it has a “strong base of support” in Longmont, numbering in the hundreds. He says the organization is not funded by any specialinterest groups or corporations. Leis says that while a handful of donors have given WTP more than $1,000, the average member donation is between $30 and $40. While it has been accused of dirty politics, he says, “We’ve never done anything underhanded.”
In addition to its Bozeman, Mont., roots, WTP lists a post office box in Denver. It lists its physical address as Gessler’s firm, as does another “old guard” contributor to the Longmont race, “Coloradans for Economic Growth,” which gave the organization “Longmont Citizens for a Brighter Future” $2,850 to support City Council candidate Alex Sammoury. WTP’s Ferguson is based in Virginia, and the organization lists a Roanoke, Texas, office on its website as well. Leis, who says he is the only fulltime employee of the organization, is based in Fort Collins. WTP’s director of communications, Brian Witt, whose phone number has a Montana area code, says he is no relation to Katie Witt.
Katie Witt has raised $15,735, more than twice as much as Benker, not including the money that WTP and other groups have spent on the race. Several prominent Colorado Republicans contributed to Witt’s campaign, including former Boulder Mayor Bob Greenlee, Colorado Christian University President and former U.S. Sen. William Armstrong, Colorado Senate Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry, Congressional candidate and state Rep. Cory Gardner, and Claudia Beauprez. Edward Lehman, publisher of the Times- Call, is also among Witt’s contributors.
The amounts contributed to the Benker-Witt race pale in comparison to the coffers of No Blank Check Longmont, formed to fight ballot question 2C, which would allow the city to offer its residents telecommunication, high-speed Internet and cable television services. The group has raised $196,513, including a $150,000 gift from the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association.
For Benker’s part, she denies the rumor that she has been bankrolled by liberal groups ProgressNow and MoveOn.org. She says she has never received money from those two groups, although she acknowledges receiving advice and information from ProgressNow during her campaign two years ago.
Witt told Boulder Weekly that she had nothing to do with the WTP poll, and that she condemned it at a recent forum. Steve Monger, who is listed as the registered agent for the WTP-funded Longmont Leadership Committee, is listed among Witt’s contributors, but she says she hasn’t had any contact with him since the Boulder County Fair last summer, well before the poll was conducted.
“People give me money because they approve of what I do, not because I approve of what they do,” she says, adding that her reaction to the poll was, “Darn it, that’s too bad. I’m sorry that it offended people, but I had nothing to do with it.”
Monger did not return calls for this story by press time. According to campaign expenditure reports, his group has spent most of the money it received from WTP on mailed anti-Benker materials and lobbying calls.
Witt says she does not know what WTP is or what it does. “I can tell you, I’m no sock puppet of the Western Tradition Partnership,” she says.
Witt, who waged an unsuccessful Colorado Senate run last year, also denies claims that she is being groomed for bigger and better things in the Republican Party.
“I think there’s more interest in this race because of the lack of leadership these last two years,” she says. “I think people see that things are off track. The Republican Party has nothing to do with this. I’m not a party hack. I just want what’s best for Longmont.”
When informed about WTP and its funding of the poll and the Longmont Leadership Committee, Benker says, “I think there’s a shell game going on. I don’t think they can plead innocence.”