Committee attacks Brenner | SteamboatToday.com

Committee attacks Brenner

Mailings criticize Democratic candidate's stance on health care

Brandon Gee

— A controversial political committee has thrown its hat into the Senate District 8 arena with mailings that criticize Democratic candidate Ken Brenner and promote his opponent, state Rep. Al White, R-Hayden.

Denver-based Republican issues committee Senate Majority Fund LLC – whose name is misleading because Democrats have a majority in the state Senate – paid for fliers that have shown up in Routt County mailboxes this week. The flier criticizing Brenner pictures a monkey wearing a stethoscope and asks voters, “Is now the time to monkey around with health care?” It goes on to accuse Brenner of supporting a state-run, taxpayer-funded health care system that would result in higher taxes and prescription costs. Brenner said Monday that the flier mischaracterizes his position on the issue.

The same committee sent out a flier touting White.

“Al White can lead us on the path to economic recovery,” it states.

Senate Majority Fund is a 527 committee, named after a section of the IRS code. Such committees are not bound by fundraising limits but are not allowed to promote the election or defeat of specific candidates. They also aren’t allowed to coordinate with candidates or candidate committees. Largely because of their financial strength, the groups have had substantial influence on Colorado politics in recent years.

From Sept. 25 to Oct. 8, Senate Majority Fund raised $34,575 and spent $29,377. In comparison, Brenner and White’s candidate committees raised $2,235 and $10,600, respectively, in the same two-week period.

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Last month, watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch sued Senate Majority Fund and another 527 committee for advertisements similar to the ones being distributed in Senate District 8. Ethics Watch argues that by specifically naming and picturing candidates, Senate Majority Fund is breaking the law.

“Senate Majority Fund : (is) trying to have (its) cake and eat it too; they want to enjoy the 527 benefits of unfettered fundraising abilities while also enjoying the political committee benefits of expressly advocating the election of candidates,” Chantell Taylor, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said in a news release. “With this lawsuit, we aim to hold them accountable for so blatantly scoffing at campaign finance laws.”

Scott Shires, who is listed in the Colorado Secretary of State’s campaign finance database as the contact person for Senate Majority Fund, did not return a phone message Monday. Groups such as Senate Majority Fund have claimed that their advertisements are legal if they don’t use the phrases “vote for” or “vote against.”

Brenner responded to Senate Majority Fund’s mailing Monday in a letter to the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Brenner’s letter accuses White of attacking with misleading statements and attributes statements printed on the flier to his Republican opponent. But White said Monday that he had no knowledge of the advertisements.

“I had no idea that they were even playing in my race, so that takes me by surprise,” said White, who was campaigning in Eagle County and said he had not checked his mailbox Monday.

Their stances

According to a January report by the Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform, which was created by the Colorado General Assembly in 2006, the state spends $30 billion on health care each year in public and private spending. The report estimates there are 792,000 uninsured Coloradans.

The two candidates differ on the extent to which they agree with the commission’s 32 recommendations for health care reform.

“I think there’s a couple things we can do,” said White, who noted high administrative costs that the commission estimated could be reduced by $167 million a year through streamlining measures. “We could save significant money in our delivery. And we can do more to be more proactive with our own health.”

White disagrees with the commission’s recommendations, however, when it comes to requiring coverage.

“I don’t favor that particularly at this point because I don’t know what it costs,” said White, who claims those who have their own insurance would be forced to pay for others’ as well. “There’s not a good model out there for providing state-mandated health care – at least that I’m aware of.”

Brenner, however, said he agrees with the commission’s recommendation to “require all legal residents of Colorado to have minimum insurance coverage.” To make the mandate feasible, the commission recommends “expanding eligibility for public programs,” “providing sliding-scale subsidies for low-income workers to purchase private coverage,” and enforcing it “through the income tax system,” among other measures.

But Brenner said it is unfair to say these recommendations would bring higher taxes and force residents to pay for others’ health care coverage in addition to their own.

“Taxpayers fund health care now,” Brenner said. “The taxpayer is funding it today.”

Brenner also noted that any tax increase would require voter approval, and he said the commission’s recommendations require coverage and don’t prescribe “state-run health care.”

“About $1,000 of every family policy premium goes to compensate providers for unreimbursed services,” Brenner wrote in his letter. “Furthermore, county and state governments are already picking up the tab for indigent care not covered under a program. One of the tasks set out by the commission is to eliminate this charge. : If we can solve this problem we will reduce costs, not increase them.”

– To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com