Charlie Spies may be the only Republican establishment lawyer in Washington who pitches clients with a profile from the leftist muckraking journal, Mother Jones. An Oct. 31, 2012, piece describes Spies’ expertise in transforming money from corporations and the super rich into independent, political juggernauts.
As the treasurer of Restore Our Future, described by Mother Jones as “the king of all super-PACs,” Spies spent $142 million in support of Mitt Romney in 2012, using 90 percent of the money to attack Romney’s GOP rivals and President Obama.
He is a believer, defender and advocate of the right to make unlimited, independent campaign expenditures.
And he is Tom Foley’s lawyer.
Spies advised Foley’s campaign for governor of Connecticut in 2010, and the national political law practice he oversees in Washington, D.C., for the firm Clark Hill helped Foley register a tax-exempt political advocacy group, Voters for Good Government, with the IRS on Oct. 11, 2012.
Voters for Good Government – VFGG, as Foley calls it – made $250,000 in independent expenditures in the final two weeks of the 2012 campaign. It targeted six state Senate races in an unsuccessful effort to tilt the Connecticut Senate from Democratic to Republican control.
“But that’s the future. That was the dry run,” said Tom Scott, a conservative activist who applauded the effort. “Given the relative weakness of the parties, particularly the Republican Party, you’re going to see more of this on both sides.”
Wal-Mart, AT&T, Exxon Mobil, Citigroup, Comcast, Koch Industries and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce contributed, albeit indirectly, toward the October surprise sprung on the Connecticut Democrats by VFGG. All were major donors to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that was the single biggest contributor to Voters for Good Government.
Foley acknowledged being the treasurer of VFGG in a settlement reached last week with Connecticut elections officials over his using the group to pay $15,504 for a poll in March assessing his prospects should he run for governor in 2014. A memo detailing the poll’s favorable results was shared with reporters, an act officials said promoted Foley’s potential candidacy for governor.
He agreed to reimburse VFGG for the cost of the poll, and VFGG agreed to pay an equivalent civil penalty of $15,504.
Spies declined to comment on the settlement, but Foley was defiant, saying he agreed to a settlement with the State Elections Enforcement Commission only to avoid protracted litigation.
“Legally, this is very weak on their side. Why are they going to all his trouble and expense? Where does it get anybody?” Foley said. “No wonder employers are leaving the state. You get wound up with a regulatory agency in this state, and God help you.”
Foley says he believes that independent expenditures by VFGG on behalf of Republican legislative candidates will be necessary again in 2014 to restore some political balance to Connecticut, a state where Democrats hold every statewide office, every congressional seat and majorities in the state Senate and House.
“We don’t think that’s good government when one party is calling the shots,” Foley said. “Voters for Good Government is seeking better balance.”
Foley would not rule out independent expenditures by the group on behalf of a GOP candidacy for governor by him or someone else, a decision that he said would be ultimately up to the group’s donors. He has the sole check-writing authority.
“I’d say in any organization like this, ultimately your contributors are the ones who steer decision making,” Foley said. “If the decisions being made don’t comply with what they are comfortable with, the money dries.”
IRS records, including one publicly unavailable report that was provided by Spies’ law firm, show that VFGG raised $479,500 in 2012, all of it in an eight-day period from Oct 22 to Nov. 2. It spent $306,120, mostly on direct mail and television ads in a half-dozen Senate and one House race.
A filing showing the contributor information was not on the IRS website, although its registration and tax return were posted. Liz Kurantowicz, the managing director of Voters for Good Government, said the IRS failed to provide the login and password information necessary for VFGG to file the missing report.
“It’s just a function of their dysfunction,” she said.
A copy provided to The Mirror by James E. Tyrrell III, a lawyer with Spies’ firm, showed five donors:
- $340,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee, the largest caucus of Republican state officials. It is advised by Ed Gillespie, a former adviser to George W. Bush and the cofounder with Karl Rove of the super PAC, American Crossroads;
- $100,000 from Thomas Peterffy of Greenwich, a billionaire who made two initial donations of $50,000. He was the only donor on record when Voters for Good Government filed its first notice of an independent expenditure with state elections officials;
- $15,000 from the Roger Sherman Liberty Center of Milford, a group founded by Tom Scott and Jack Fowler, the publisher of the National Review;
- $15,000 from the American Justice Partnership of Lansing, Mich.;
- $9,500 from Americans for Job Security of Alexandria, Va.
The American Justice Partnership gave $1.35 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which spent $40 million nationally in 2012.
“It’s not unusual for groups with common goals or purposes to work together,” Spies said in a telephone interview with The Mirror.
Conservatives are simply using the same template employed for years by unions, he said.
“Unions have continued to be very active in Connecticut, and the fact there are parallel groups with a more conservative leadership trying to compete is not at all surprising.”
Spies was a lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, where he said he learned to disdain the campaign finance watchdog groups like Common Cause, which decry unlimited independent expenditures as corrupting.
“Limits don’t work, and the states that have limits tend to have more corruption and problems,” Spies said. “So I do believe in no limits, but full transparency.”