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New 527 Targets Coors

Schaffer Distances Himself From Attack Ads

With three weeks before the Senate Republican primary in Colorado, brewing mogul Pete Coors is battling not only ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer but also a newly formed soft-money group headed by a key ally of the former Congressman.

Colorado Conservative Voters, a 527 organization headed by former Sen. Bill Armstrong (R), began a television and radio campaign late last week attacking Coors for his advocacy of “liberal” policies like lowering the drinking age, and alleging that Coors supports the “homosexual agenda.”

Armstrong, who represented the Centennial State in the Senate from 1978 to 1990, was the earliest and most outspoken supporter of Schaffer’s candidacy and stuck with the former 4th district Congressman even as the national and state Republican establishment looked elsewhere for a candidate.

He did not return numerous calls seeking comment on the group’s activities, but knowledgeable sources indicated that if fundraising keeps up the group aims to remain on the air through the Aug. 10 primary.

Schaffer has not yet begun advertising in the race but has emphasized that he will run an entirely positive campaign heading into the primary.

He held a news conference Friday decrying the new ads as “counterproductive,” and attempted to distance himself from them.

“Because it was a negative attack it wasn’t consistent with what we have been doing,” said Schaffer campaign manager Pat Fiske. “Anybody who is supporting Bob we want to be as positive as possible about who he is.”

Those comments have not sated the Coors campaign, however, which immediately filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that CCV’s ads amount to an illegal soft-money donation to Schaffer’s campaign.

“We are disappointed that Schaffer and his friends went down this road and started attacking a fellow Republican,” said Coors spokeswoman Cinamon Watson.

Armstrong has said he cut ties with Schaffer more than a month ago, and that there is no coordination between the 527 and the campaign.

The Coors campaign also released a poll Monday that showed its candidate with a comfortable 53 percent to 34 percent lead. The survey was conducted by the Tarrance Group July 14-15, testing 500 likely Republican voters with a 4.5 percent margin of error.

In all public polling both Coors and Schaffer trail state Attorney General Ken Salazar, the likely Democratic nominee. Salazar faces a primary challenge from educator Mike Miles.

For now, however, the Republican primary stands at center stage.

Armstrong’s new group, which filed with the Internal Revenue Service on July 2, represents yet another relatively unexplored wrinkle in the new campaign finance law.

While the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act banned soft-money advertising within 30 days of a primary, it exempted unincorporated 527s that only accept contributions from individuals.

Due to that technicality, CCV will be able to run advertising — as long as it does not accept money from corporations or unions or expressly advocate either Coors’ defeat or Schaffer’s election — all the way through the primary.

The group’s initial willingness to fund $60,000 worth of radio and television buys could play a crucial role in bridging the fundraising gap between Coors and Schaffer.

Schaffer has struggled to stay financially competitive with Coors since the race began in earnest in late March.

Coors ended June with $787,000 on hand, while Schaffer had a meager $163,000 in the bank.

Fiske maintained that fundraising remains steady and that the campaign will meet its $1 million goal.

Watson said the latest reports “prove that [Schaffer] can’t raise any money.”

She said the CCV ads are an outcropping of the fact that Schaffer’s “support is waning and he’s desperate.”

His financial edge has allowed Coors to run a month of television commercials introducing himself as a political candidate to the state’s voters. Due to his fundraising struggles, Schaffer has stayed off the airwaves.

The CCV ads attempt to level the playing field somewhat as both the radio and television commercials tout Schaffer’s conservative credentials.

“Bob Schaffer has a proven record as a fighter for smaller government,” says the television ad’s narrator. “And Schaffer kept his word on term limits.”

Schaffer held the eastern Colorado 4th district from 1996 to 2002.

The radio ad praised Schaffer’s “truly remarkable conservative record.”

But the thrust of both ads is focused on painting Coors as a liberal, a scarlet letter in a Republican primary made up almost entirely of conservative voters.

“Coors and his company have given thousands of dollars to support tax-raising initiatives and liberal Democrats,” says the narrator in both ads.

The most controversial claim in the ads is that Coors has “led efforts to promote the homosexual agenda.”

The Coors Brewing Co., the third largest brewery in America, has been a leader in offering family benefits to gay employees.

Coors, who is currently on leave as CEO of the company, has sounded a more conservative tone in the campaign, citing his support for a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.

A potential backlash to the CCV ads is a real possibility, acknowledged Schaffer allies.

“The public can get very cynical about negative advertising,” said Fiske.

The belief in the Schaffer camp is that if the campaign had remained entirely positive, his years of Congressional and legislative experience advocating for conservative causes would have trumped Coors’ business background.

Now, however, the CCV ads have given Coors an opening to attack Schaffer, which he has done with an ad that began running Friday.

“The tenor of the attacks is unprecedented in a Republican primary,” said Watson. “Because of that we felt we had to answer them.”

The new Coors ad hits Schaffer for claiming in an ad of his own that he was president of a bank, even though it was in the process of being formed.

“Bob got caught padding his résumé,” Watson said.