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The Politics of Lawyers

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With all due respect to our resident attorney, Jeralyn Merritt, Colorado politics is getting a little too lawyery for me.

Getting attorneys involved in politics is nothing new — ask Al Gore how that worked out — but I don’t remember a year locally where so many attorneys have played so prominent a role in state politics. Gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez used attorneys to help end the candidacy of Republican challenger Marc Holtzman in June. Beauprez spent so much money on attorney fees that it showed up at the end of July as one of the top expenses of his entire campaign.

Republicans are still trying to get a court to allow them to go back to their 2003 redistricting plan that would essentially make it impossible for a Democrat to win a congressional seat in the now-competitive district seven. That case isn’t likely going anywhere, but they’re still trying.

The most egregious use of attorneys, however, came earlier this year as part of a story that is now getting more and more attention. As The Denver Post reported last week:

Republican Secretary of State Gigi Dennis made controversial changes to Colorado campaign-finance rules after requests from lawyers who work for the state GOP, gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and a powerful Republican political committee, records show.

The attorneys filed documents with Dennis’ office in February requesting limitations on the campaign activities of some traditionally Democratic groups, such as unions and small-donor committees. Dennis, who said Wednesday that politics played no role in her decisionmaking, adopted some of those proposals after a public hearing…

…She said the issue was first broached by the two lawyers, not by citizen complaints. She said about 90 percent of all campaign-finance rule changes arise from candidates, lawyers and individual citizens.

The rules were published on the Internet. Democrats attended the June hearing and opposed the changes.

Lawyer Scott Gessler, who does work for Beauprez and his campaign, and attorney John Zak hem, who counsels both the GOP’s Trailhead Group political committee and the state Republican Party, said they made the in-person requests to Dennis on behalf of themselves, not a client.

But Gessler acknowledged politics played a role.

“It was not my sole motivating factor to help Bob Beauprez, but was I conscious of it? Yes,” he said. “The rules are riddled with exceptions that help out Democratic constituencies.”

On Tuesday, a group of individuals, unions and a state representative filed suit against Dennis, accusing her of abusing her power in issuing the new rules Aug. 2. Their attorney, Mark Grueskin, said Wednesday that the latest developments led to questions about whether Dennis was “tilting the playing field in favor of one candidate or one political party.”

Geez. Now we have attorneys working for both Republicans and Democrats fighting a back room fight over campaign rules that shouldn’t have been changed this close to an election. If Republican lawyers win, Democratic candidates will suffer disproportionately.

We’ve almost reached the point in political campaigns where candidates have to budget a chunk of their money for attorney fees, either to protect themselves or to go on the attack. Politics is dirty enough as it is. Do we really need to throw the lawyers into it?

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