The executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has been aiming to remake Colorado politics using hyper-aggressive and confrontational political strategies.
The .45-caliber Nighthawk T3 Comp that had felt so heavy to me looks featherlike in Dudley Brown’s firm, two-handed grip. He slices the air, bringing the gun from his waist up to eye-level in a blink. He pauses, then flicks the safety and squeezes the trigger. Two quick shots thunder through the low-ceilinged range, ejecting bullet casings that clatter on the cement floor. Twenty-five feet away, a single hole pierces the target through the center of the outlined chest.
It’s a Friday afternoon in May, and the 47-year-old executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) is initiating two new staff members at the Front Range Gun Club in Loveland. Brown—unassuming in a baggy, camouflage hunting shirt, his full face slightly reddened and graying blond hair cropped close—has also brought a fully automatic MP5 machine gun he carries with a special federal permit. An expert shooter and instructor, Brown is a popular figure at the range—and at the nearby Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, where he relaxes with his protégés after the demonstration. The welcoming environment contrasts with that of the Colorado political scene, in which Brown is becoming something of a pariah.
“You’ll probably lose some friends when they find out where you’re working,” he warns the clean-cut young men, with obvious relish. It’s almost as if they’ve joined a cult—and in a way, they have. Their new boss has spent nearly two decades taking aim at select Colorado Republicans—and rarely missing. He savagely and routinely attacks candidates and officeholders unwilling to pledge, in writing, their absolute loyalty to Brown on Second Amendment issues. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010—the “corporations are people” case—spurred myriad nontraditional political groups into action, and Brown has capitalized on his group’s newfound freedom. He’s built RMGO and the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) into a double-barreled fund-raising machine that bullies anyone who compromises Brown’s pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-gay agenda. (A favorite showy tactic is driving around in a Pinzgauer, a boxy, big-wheeled Cold War–era Austrian troop truck that Brown calls his “political pain delivery vehicle.”) Says former state Representative B.J. Nikkel, a Larimer County Republican who ran afoul of Brown last year after she voted for civil unions legislation: “He’s a political terrorist and a modern-day charlatan who operates in the shadows and portrays himself as a supposed ‘Christian,’ but he uses the people naive enough to believe him and financially support him.”
He’s also a primary, if almost unrecognized, reason why Democrats, in a little less than a decade, have turned this once-red state a deepening shade of blue. While Colorado has changed, Brown—Colorado politicos know him as just plain “Dudley”—has not. Nor does he intend to. The RMGO’s demand of “no compromises” on gun rights is an indirect shot at the National Rifle Association, which Brown sees as too willing to cut gun control deals. (The disdain is mutual; the NRA once called Brown the “Al Sharpton of the gun movement,” too extreme for America’s most notorious firearm lobby.) True to form, last July, two days after James Holmes shot 70 moviegoers in Aurora, killing 12, I asked him about proposals to limit ammunition purchases. When I mentioned Holmes had 6,000 rounds with him that night, Brown said, “I call 6,000 rounds running low.”
Brown’s hostage-holding of any center- or left-tilting Colorado Republican has crippled the GOP’s ability to regain a political foothold, making Colorado a swing-state microcosm of the national GOP’s biggest problem: breaking free of its base and becoming more “inclusive,” an imperative Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus outlined in March. Indeed, Brown doesn’t give much thought to the Republican team. “If you’re not feared in politics, you’re not respected,” he told me one day in his office. “And I don’t really care anymore about trying to play nice.” As he spoke, hanging on the wall behind him were photos of his wife and two children—affixed to the front of a case that stores a loaded combat shotgun.
If Colorado Republicans have not been widely successful in recent years, how has Brown become one of the most powerful people in state politics and raised his national profile? It turns out this modern-day Machiavelli amasses more influence and income when his party loses than when it wins. By taking out moderate Republicans in primary races, he’s left the GOP with fewer officeholders, most of them staunch conservatives in a state where nearly two-thirds of voters register as either Democrats or independents. Many of the remaining Republican lawmakers are more loyal to Brown than to the state party, itself an increasingly impotent and underfunded organization. As Democratic majorities at the state Capitol pass more progressive laws, Brown’s members have begun to literally hit a panic button: the “contribute” links in his organization’s near-constant emails. It’s created a golden opportunity for Brown—and maybe for Democrats, too. Progressive activist Ted Trimpa, an architect of the Colorado Democracy Alliance, says Brown’s nefarious ways have aided his causes, but he doesn’t necessarily welcome the help. “Dudley sometimes makes our day,” Trimpa says, “but overall he’s poison in our ecosystem of democracy.”
Almost Twenty years later, former state Senator Don Ament still remembers finding himself in Dudley Brown’s cross hairs. Ament was driving along I-76 toward Sterling when he passed a large plywood sign that read, “Defend Guns, Defeat Ament.” At first, he thought his eyes had deceived him—until he passed another. “I lived on a ranch my whole life,” Ament told me. “We had rifles in our pickups. Nobody ever thought I was a gun control guy.”
He just wasn’t pro-gun enough for Brown. In 1996, Brown hit Ament with a devastating mailer while Ament was running for Congress. The state GOP offices were then located on Colfax Avenue near the Diamond Cabaret strip club; the flier’s photo, taken as Ament was leaving the party’s office, was shot at an angle that made it look like he’d been enjoying lap dances. The text read: “Send Denver Don home to his wife.” This was when the philandering Bill Clinton was president, and the message resonated. Ament lost the Republican primary to Bob Schaffer, and the Dudley Brown playbook was born.
Brown, a Wyoming native, was primarily raised in South Dakota but didn’t embrace guns much until attending Colorado State University. He also apparently got into drugs, copping to a use of controlled substance charge in 1988. Today, he shrugs: “I did stupid things in college. I don’t think I’m the first.”
At CSU, Brown founded a student GOP group and was elected chairman of College Republicans of Colorado. It was the 1980s, the Cold War still unresolved, and Brown disliked Fort Collins’ collegial political climate. “The College Republicans were having doughnuts with the College Democrats, even during Reagan’s re-election year,” he says. “I didn’t want to have doughnuts with them. I wanted to beat them over their heads.”
The RMGO website once listed Brown as a CSU graduate; he recently corrected his bio to say he “attended” CSU after being confronted with records showing he never actually graduated. He’d left school early to work for Republican U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong before becoming the media director for the House GOP caucus and later the legislative director for the Firearms Coalition of Colorado.
While working for House Republicans, Brown made his own headlines. At a Super Bowl party downtown in 1991, a woman poured beer on Brown because she said he’d been harassing her. He allegedly responded by smashing her head against a sink while trying to douse her with beer. He denied the charge and was later acquitted by a jury.
Brown founded Rocky Mountain Gun Owners in 1996. Early on, the 501(c)(4) nonprofit pushed his agenda at a time when the GOP mostly ran Colorado. “They wanted to make sure the candidates had true conservative ideals,” says Mario Nicolais, a Republican attorney who got to know Brown while working for former Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave. “If they lost a seat or two, it didn’t really matter because, back then, Republicans held large enough majorities."
When Republican Bill Owens became governor in 1999, the GOP controlled both state legislative chambers, both U.S. Senate seats, and four of the state’s six congressional posts, so there wasn’t much gun control legislation for Brown to oppose. Then, three months into Owens’ term, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 of their classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton before taking their own lives. It later emerged that a friend had purchased weapons for them at a gun show, leveraging a loophole that allowed gun purchases without background checks. The following year, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure, supported by Owens, that closed the loophole.
It was a galvanizing moment for a fringe group seeking its niche. Brown inundated Owens with postcards from his members and sent bullhorn-wielding RMGO supporters to shout down the governor at public events. “The NRA ‘got’ politics and was rational, easy to deal with,” says Sean Tonner, Owens’ deputy chief of staff. “All Dudley wanted to do was create controversy. He makes his money when there’s turmoil, real or perceived, because that’s what gets his members to write him checks.”
Brown even tried to embarrass Owens at an annual GOP state assembly by sending a group of supporters wearing “Tyranny Response Team” T-shirts to loudly boo the governor’s renomination. “The attacks just never stopped,” marvels Sean Duffy, who moved from Pennsylvania in 2001 to become Owens’ new communications director. “He’s exactly what’s wrong with the Republican Party all rolled up into one guy. He’ll say or do anything to destroy viable candidates and legislators who agree with him 90 percent of the time, because you’re either 100 percent with him, or you’re 100 percent against him.”
The unraveling of Colorado Republicans can be traced to the 2004 campaign season. The party entered that year with a seemingly safe 37-28 House majority; they left it reeling from a Democratic upset, the seeds of which were sown in the most unlikely of places: the GOP’s own primaries. The decisive blow came in Greeley, where Pam Groeger, a conservative Republican, ran against small business owner Bob McFadden, a comparative moderate. Groeger had challenged McFadden for being soft on abortion, and one of her campaign mailers depicted McFadden apparently stealing a Groeger yard sign. The lawn, however, was McFadden’s own; the sign had been planted by whoever surreptitiously snapped the damning photo. The text read: “Can you trust Robert McFadden in your state house? Tell McFadden integrity counts.”
It was a classic Brown tactic (although he has not admitted involvement). When the Greeley Tribune later reported that McFadden was set up, Groeger’s integrity was put into question. She ignored the Tribune’s calls for her resignation, and the guerilla tactics split Republicans in the election against Democrat Jim Riesberg. Groeger had won her primary but lost a district where her party had a six-point voter registration advantage.
Colorado’s Democratic takeover would not have happened so quickly if the party hadn’t won three seemingly safe GOP seats. Republican Rob Witwer later co-authored The Blueprint, concluding the GOP lost Colorado as much as Democrats won it. “Our own scorched-earth primaries provided the perfect opening for Democratic funders like Tim Gill and Pat Stryker”—who, with Jared Polis and Rutt Bridges, comprise the so-called “Gang of Four” that’s often credited with solidifying Colorado’s Democratic stronghold—“to finish off weakened GOP candidates,” Witwer says.
As it turned out, 2004’s results were no aberration. In 2006, Democrat Bill Ritter was elected as governor in a 17-point romp. In 2008, national Democrats planted their flag in Denver and nominated Barack Obama for president. He carried Colorado easily, Democratic Congressman Mark Udall won a U.S. Senate seat that had been in GOP hands, the state House remained in Democratic control, and Democrats suddenly held five of the state’s seven congressional districts.
Among the noteworthy also-rans in 2008 was Marilyn Musgrave. Based on demographics, her 4th District—encompassing mostly rural northern and eastern Colorado—is one no Republican should ever lose, and in doing so she went from being Brown’s biggest success to his biggest failure. The Pentecostal Christian had been one of Colorado’s most conservative lawmakers in the 1990s, focusing on right-to-work law and abortion at the state Capitol. Elected to Congress in 2002, she sponsored a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and infamously referred to the subject as the “most important issue” facing the country.
Musgrave was a nearly perfect politician to Brown and his allies: brothers Jon and Mark Hotaling and Guy Short, who was Musgrave’s campaign manager and chief of staff. (Short has since been Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s political director and campaign manager and is currently embroiled in a federal ethics probe related to campaign spending during her 2012 presidential bid.) Nicolais recalls how the group used Risograph machines—affordable printer/photocopiers for high-volume projects—to generate direct-mail attacks on Colorado Republicans. “Jon Hotaling, a pastor, told me he loves the sound of the Risograph because, ‘It’s the only thing that keeps the sound of the murdered babies out of my mind,’ ” Nicolais says.
B.J. Nikkel, who once worked for Musgrave, says her former boss was merely a puppet for what Nikkel calls “the Four Horsemen of the Political Apocalypse.” By Musgrave’s third term she’d become an embarrassment to D.C. Republicans, who barely bothered defending her 2008 loss to Betsy Markey. Losing such a prominent seat should’ve been debilitating for Brown. Instead, by preying on a divided, weakened, and suddenly dysfunctional Republican Party, he and his organizations attracted more donations and grew even stronger.
In 2010, Republicans rebounded—just not in Colorado. As the GOP gubernatorial candidates imploded, essentially handing the election to Democrat John Hickenlooper, the U.S. Senate race remained winnable for the Republican Party. Michael Bennet, who’d been appointed to finish Ken Salazar’s term, was untested and awkward on the stump. Jane Norton, formerly Owens’ lieutenant governor, was moderate and formidable. She was not, however, a favorite of the newly powerful Tea Party and its anti-establishment conservative groups, who preferred Ken Buck, the likable, conservative Weld County district attorney. Brown, Short, and the Hotalings backed Buck with mailings and political connections. (Jon Hotaling, especially, also made almost daily phone calls to Buck, to the occasional chagrin of his campaign manager, John Swartout.) South Carolina’s U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, a Tea Party star, even came to Denver to campaign with Buck. This helped him beat Norton in the primary but backfired in the general contest as Democrats used Buck’s declarations of conservatism, so popular with primary voters, to paint him as an extremist.
The campaign turned on Buck’s visit to Meet the Press, in which he compared homosexuality to alcoholism, saying genetics plays a role but that both are ultimately choices. Democrats had been saturating the airwaves—women describing Buck’s restrictive positions on abortion and equal pay legislation and concluding, “I just can’t vote for Ken Buck”—and after Meet the Press, the ads began to resonate. On November 2, as many conservatives were celebrating, Buck watched a tight race slip away. “Someone like Ken Buck could have won,” Swartout says. “But when he softened his position just a fraction [during the general election] on personhood or backed away from an all-out ban on birth control, the conservatives hit him for it—even though we were past the primary.”
According to Swartout, in a post-mortem debate with Brown about the election, the latter said Buck would have won if he’d stayed true to his conservatism. “I told him, ‘You can’t scare suburban women,’ ” Swartout says. “We lost Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, and it was over.” Brown dismisses this: “I’m sorry, but those people aren’t principled conservatives.”
Although Brown’s practices once helped Marilyn Musgrave, he hasn’t been as charitable toward more moderate Republican female candidates and officeholders. Take B.J. Nikkel, for example: The representative from House District 49 (Larimer County) had already announced she wouldn’t seek re-election in 2012 after her district was redrawn. That spring, she became the first Republican to vote in favor of civil unions. Her tenure at the Capitol was ending, but she was attacked anyway. The Sunday after her yes vote, some Brown allies went to Nikkel’s church to distribute fliers from a group calling itself “Colorado for Family Values,” asking congregants to contact her for being “the deciding vote to force homosexual marriage on Colorado.”
Nikkel’s vote helped propel the legislation to the House floor, where Republican Speaker Frank McNulty chose the nuclear option of putting the House into recess rather than voting on civil unions and about 30 other bills. Months later, Democrats regained the House majority, sweeping every competitive race. In the Senate, Republicans couldn’t gain a single seat.
State Senator Jean White of Hayden, who twice voted yes on civil unions, also faced a Brown-endorsed challenge in the form of pro-gun Randy Baumgardner, a rancher from Hot Sulphur Springs with a country drawl and a thick Fu Manchu mustache. For that campaign, Brown devised a mailer with some conservative allies—including Public Advocate of the United States, a national right-wing organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group for its anti-gay activities—that depicted two men kissing in a wintry landscape. The text: “State Senator Jean White’s idea of family values?” The problem was, the photo was taken in New York; Brown had the Brooklyn Bridge Photoshopped out and replaced with snow-dusted pines. The two men and their photographer are now suing Brown and his cohorts for copyright infringement of their engagement photo. Although the suit remains unresolved, Baumgardner won the election. “His tactics are deplorable,” White says. “But the unfortunate thing is, people believe him. He gets away with it.”
Lately, though, state Republicans are beginning to wonder if Brown’s circular firing squad is killing the party by alienating everyone except its most devout conservatives. “We need women voters, and he goes after Jean White,” Nicolais says. “That says it all. If he’d spent that money on [moderate Republican state Senate candidate] Lang Sias, we might not have [Democrat] Evie Hudak.” (Hudak beat Sias by fewer than 600 votes.) Brown told me he might have supported Sias, a former Navy Top Gun pilot, if Sias had completed the RMGO questionnaire about his positions on gun issues. “If you won’t tell us how you’re going to vote and be explicit, we ain’t gonna help,” Brown says. “The people advising him not to fill out a survey have never won a fucking race. None of them have any juice in my book. They claim if you stand in the middle, everything will be fine. The only thing in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe and a dead armadillo.” That’s why Brown prefers candidates like Baumgardner. “Randy’s not going to win any award for being a brain surgeon,” Brown says. “But he’ll vote 100 percent better than Jean White would have.” (In July, Baumgardner announced that he’ll challenge U.S. Senator Mark Udall in 2014.)
Colorado Republicans currently lack a strong outside organization to support their candidates, leaving GOP primaries to play out within the party assembly process, where Brown has an outsized influence. “He’s a bully who belongs in a schoolyard,” Nicolais says. “But he only picks fights he can win.” By backing ideologues and undercutting more moderate Republicans, Brown “has done more damage to the Republican Party than anyone,” White says. “I believe he’s solely responsible for us being in the minority.”
State Senator Greg Brophy, who is perhaps Brown’s closest ally at the Capitol, calls White’s contention “a bunch of crap. We got put in the minority by Colorado Democracy Alliance, by [the GOP meltdown around unlikely gubernatorial nominee] Dan Maes, and by a liberal-controlled redistricting process.” Brophy, who is contemplating his own run for governor in 2014, agrees that Brown has cost Republicans the occasional seat, but he also argues that Brown’s influence on the party has been mostly positive. “I think his work in the Republican Party is done,” Brophy says. “He’s established that all Republicans are going to be Second Amendment advocates. Most of us are, naturally, but we all know: Don’t be wrong on guns. And no Republican will lose an election next year because of that position, which proves he’s right.”
Like many Americans, Brown was angry last December following the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. But in his outrage, he found opportunity. “My prayers and those of my staff here at the National Association for Gun Rights go out to the families of the victims,” Brown wrote in an email to his national membership list less than 10 hours after the massacre. “But already, like in so many cases from years past, the gun control lobby is shamelessly using the blood of innocents to advance their anti-gun agenda. Right now, members of the Washington, D.C. gun control lobby are gathered on the street in front of the White House. Their hands are wrapped around the black iron gates surrounding the complex and they’re screaming at the top of their lungs.” The note’s subject line read, “Circling vultures.”
Three months later, seven Democratic gun control measures moved through the Colorado Legislature. When the Senate debated the bills in March, the screaming and honking was coming from Brown’s side, from the couple thousand RMGO members who were summoned via email to descend upon the Capitol. That afternoon, Brown testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee as it considered a ban on magazines of 15 rounds or more. State Senator Jessie Ulibarri, an Adams County Democrat, denied Brown’s assertion that Colorado Democrats were bought off by the White House and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. When Ulibarri asked Brown if his organizations had donated to any Republican lawmakers weighing the bill, Brown eagerly responded (after GOP committee members’ objections), “Yes, Senator. And we’re going to give money [to] your opponents, too.” Cheers erupted from the RMGO supporters packing the hearing room.
Weeks earlier, during another gun package debate, state Representative Cheri Gerou, an Evergreen Republican, faced a similar threat, even after voting against two of the Democratic bills. She couldn’t understand why so many of her constituents were emailing and calling her, concerned she might support the other Democratic bills, until she realized Brown had been riling them up with postcards and emails. (He calls the tactic “suppression fire.”)
Gerou confronted Brown’s lobbyist, Joe Neville, outside the House chamber. “I said, ‘Stop scaring people, it’s intense enough down here,’ ” she says. “And he just looked at me with a smirk.”
Gerou snapped, “Go fuck yourself.”
“You just earned yourself another round of mailers in your district in the primary before your next election,” Gerou says Neville responded. Gerou had him escorted out of the Capitol and later filed an ethics complaint. The formal investigation into the incident is still pending.
Brown warned all the GOP’s incoming lawmakers at a forum for conservatives. “I told them, ‘Vote for one of these bills, and you’re vulnerable. We will hold you accountable,’ ” he says. “That pisses people off. Well, I don’t care. If I wanted friends, I’d buy a puppy. We want to change the public policy in Colorado.”
Although Gerou might be a strong GOP candidate to challenge Democratic state Senator Jeanne Nicholson in 2014, Brown prefers a more conservative Republican: former state Senator Tim Neville (Joe’s father). Gerou’s angry response, perhaps the first time a lawmaker has challenged Brown so publicly, encapsulated the wider GOP establishment’s increasing concern about Brown’s impact on the party. “It’s all about intimidation with Dudley,” Nicolais says. “He wants people to fear him and his tactics, and that’s dissuaded many credible, moderate Republicans from running for office.”
Even though Brown’s stated goal is to steer gun policies in Colorado toward something more absolutist, his actions may be having the opposite effect; despite Brophy’s protestations, most agree Brown has played a central role in bringing about Democratic majorities large enough to enact the very legislation he’s devoted his whole life to fighting. The gun bills ultimately passed in the Senate because Democrats had the necessary 18 votes (after two defections). Had Brown thrown his weight behind Sias or any other moderate GOP candidates in the 2012 primaries, Republicans might have had a 16- or 17-member minority and, in the case of the gun control bills, the 18 votes needed to defeat them. When Governor Hickenlooper signed the measures, Brown watched the ceremony before reporters surrounded him outside the Capitol. “The Democrats have just handed me a sledgehammer,” he said that day. “And I get to walk through their china shop of the 2014 election.”
Brown’s pledge to turn his guns on the Democratic Party for the first time may be genuine. But will it matter for Republicans in 2014? While Hickenlooper and U.S. Senator Udall are strong incumbents, Republicans could regain the state Senate by netting three seats. Someone like Gerou—a moderate Republican woman, a successful architect, and an expert on the state budget—would be a formidable general election foe for any Democrat, and Brown’s face reddens as I tell him so. “Just because someone stakes a claim on the far left of the Republican Party, every single RINO [Republican In Name Only] goes, ‘She’s a great statewide candidate,’ ” he shouts. “Those idiots! She’s a good candidate because she sucks at everything! This is the Karl Rove attitude. I don’t get it.” He’s already blasted out a Web video of Gerou acknowledging her F-bomb before the ethics committee. He says he has more anti-Gerou attack-mail pieces in mind, clearly itching for a fight with the legislator.
“[Brown] wants us in the minority,” says Nicolais, now a Republican candidate for one of the more competitive state Senate seats in 2014. “For him, it’s mostly about a mailing list.” That’s because whenever he watches a pet issue flame out, Brown knows he’s won: Consider that in the several months it took the gun control bills to go from Democratic proposals to law, the NAGR’s membership numbers exploded. Suddenly, the cash is rolling into Brown’s office faster than his interns can count it, so anyone who concludes he lost because the bills he opposed were passed may simply be looking at the wrong scoreboard.
Two years ago, Brown moved his NAGR offices into a drab old bank on a forsaken stretch of Windsor’s Main Street. When I first visited in July 2012, the ground floor was home to a Risograph machine and scattered reams of paper. Ten months later, the office hums. More than a dozen young staffers stare at their computer screens, recording the names, email addresses, and credit card numbers of people from across the country into the NAGR database. Nearby shelves are stocked with hats, T-shirts, fleeces, and bumper stickers, all emblazoned with the NAGR’s logo—thank-you tchotchkes that are sent to donors.
Few in Washington, D.C., had ever heard of the NAGR until recently, when reports showed that it spent more money lobbying against President Obama’s gun control push than even the NRA. The bank’s old vault is still full of money; now, instead of sorted currency, it’s stuffed with shoulder-high stacks of U.S. Postal Service Flat Rate boxes crammed with petition signatures and financial pledges. Two years ago, the NAGR reported raising $3.76 million. Last year, it was $7 million. Brown told me he expects that number to increase to $15 million to $20 million this year.
He’s already spent almost $3 million in 2013 lobbying against gun control in Congress. The NAGR owes some of its sudden windfall to U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has lent his name to fund-raising pitches; Brown has also run TV ads outside of Colorado pressuring senators from both parties to defeat the new gun control measures. One spot attacking Maine’s U.S. Senator Susan Collins shows Collins’ face morphing into President Obama’s and accuses her of “team[ing] up with liberal Democrats” on gun control.
Brown pauses when I ask him what kind of salary he earns. “$70,000,” he eventually says, seemingly uncertain. Others familiar with his organizations say they think it’s closer to $300,000 a year, possibly more. Republicans who take issue with Brown say they believe money, more than any political issue, is what truly motivates him. A decade ago, when Brown was attacking Governor Owens over the gun show loophole legislation, Owens’ ally Sean Tonner fought back. He found out about the controlled substance and assault charges and decided to inform NAGR’s membership about Brown’s past. “We’d gotten postcards from people on his mailing list, so I mailed them back directly with a backgrounder on who Dudley was,” Tonner says. “That’s how you hurt him: Hit his pocketbook.”
Not many have chosen to engage Brown, if only because, as Ament says, “No one likes to fight with a skunk.” There are recent indications that investigating his finances could prove fruitful for his opponents: his furtive coordination with groups like Public Advocate; the federal elections probe surrounding his longtime partner and former Michele Bachmann political director, Guy Short, whose consulting firm, according to a sworn affidavit, allegedly received at least $40,000 in payments from Bachmann’s political action committee, MichelePAC, in violation of federal campaign finance law; and the RMGO’s temporary loss of its tax-exempt status in 2011 because Brown didn’t file an informational return for the nonprofit for three years, an oversight he blamed on a computer glitch. Such carelessness and disregard for campaign finance law could haunt him if he starts to pick national fights.
Brown remains undaunted. He’ll be hitting the road in the Pinzgauer, doing “lit drops” against his 2014 targets. “We have way bigger sway over who Republican candidates for office are than [Colorado GOP Chairman] Ryan Call ever can, or anyone else among the RINO crowd,” he says. If that sounds dubious, consider that after the April 2012 state GOP convention, Brown made a point at a delegate selection meeting of forcing votes on elections of officers just to show that he, not Call, had a majority of delegates answering to him. By convincing supporters of Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, as well as unaffiliated conservatives, to join him, Brown and company formed their own de facto majority and prevented longtime standard bearers like Pete Coors and Bob Beauprez from being elected to RNC committees. “He staged a coup,” Call says. “That’s just his typical in-your-face approach, strutting around, gloating. All of it, just to poke the GOP establishment in the eye.”
In 2014, Brown will open the NAGR’s war chest to influence the congressional midterms like never before. He’ll try to leverage backlash against gun control proposals, and he’ll support conservative Republicans in the mold of Baumgardner and Todd Akin, whose “legitimate rape” comments cost Republicans a winnable Senate seat in Missouri last year.
In Georgia, where several Republicans are vying to replace the retiring U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, Brown has endorsed the Tea Party candidate, Congressman Paul Broun, a doctor and evangelical Christian—who’s been married four times. Last year, the would-be senator called evolution a lie “straight from the pit of hell” and likened Obamacare to the Civil War, dismissing both as acts of “Yankee aggression.”
But back in Colorado, signs are emerging that Brown’s influence is waning. After he backed Jaxine Bubis, one of two Republicans who hoped to make the ballot in Senate President John Morse’s recall election, party insiders quickly delved into opposition research—the kind usually reserved for Democrats but this time directed at Brown’s candidate. In July, they leaked to the Denver Post that Bubis had authored an erotic romance novel, Beantown Heat (eXtasy Books, 2004), under the name Jaxine Daniels. The only writing of hers that concerned Brown was her signature on RMGO’s Second Amendment survey; when she inked it, his endorsement was hers. Even so, El Paso County Republicans ultimately chose former Colorado Springs Councilman Bernie Herpin for the slot. “It shows [Brown’s] true colors,” says a longtime official for the Colorado GOP. “He doesn’t give a shit about the party; if he did, he’d never run that kind of a candidate.”
Another state Senate race—one that’s critical to the GOP’s chances of regaining a majority in 2014—will feature Mario Nicolais, one of Brown’s harshest critics and a strong advocate for civil unions, who will be seeking the Republican nomination. He’s fully aware it’ll mean a fight with Brown, who has his own plans to influence that race, too. These recent developments suggest Colorado Republicans may finally be ready to go to war against Dudley Brown. After two decades of seeing him run roughshod over the state party, they’ve got nothing else to lose. “You can’t let a few bullies continue to hurt the party,” says Call, the Colorado GOP chair. “At some point, you have to fight back.”
7/30/13 Correction: This article originally stated that Guy Short was the “target” of a federal ethics investigation and that he is being scrutinized for alleged illegal campaign finance transfers. In fact, the federal government is investigating spending practices of Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign, including alleged payments funneled through Short's consulting firm, C&M Strategies. We regret the error.