DENVER — A newly created nonprofit organization here, which jumped into the presidential fray last week by dropping nearly $1 million in independent expenditures against President Barack Obama, has connections deep in Colorado's Republican establishment.
The law firm that serves as the registered agent for the Citizen Awareness Project, a 501(c)4 organization incorporated last June, is Zakhem Law LLC, home to John Zakhem, who has served as an attorney for the state Republican party and has helped the GOP play the campaign money game from every angle over the years. The listed staff contact is Charlie Smith, a law clerk at the firm identified by the Center for Public Integrity as the former chairman of the College Republican National Committee.
State records show that Smith is also the point person for another nonprofit, the Colorado Future Fund, which is also a super PAC that has yet to spend in the elections. The one donor to Colorado Future Fund — Houston-based SG Business Services, Ltd., which gave $25,000 in August — has been a flashpoint in Republican Rep. Scott Tipton's campaign.
In February, the company agreed to pay $550,000 to settle an antitrust case with the U.S. Department of Justice involving bidding on leases on land in Tipton's district. The previous year, the congressman had been attempting to mediate a dispute between local activists and the company.
After the Justice Department announcement, Public Campaign, itself a nonprofit group that advocates for public financing on elections–and which is connected to a super PAC that has not reported spending to date in the Tipton race–called on Tipton to return $10,000 he received for his campaign connected the company. That demand then echoed by the Colorado Democratic Party, which noted that the company was continuing to work to extend oil and gas leases in the area.
Zakhem serves as election counsel to the Tipton campaign, but despite his ties to Smith via the law firm the lawyer denies any personal involvement with the Colorado Future Fund.
In reply to an email query from the Sunlight Foundation, Zakhem said, "I am not involved in any way with the Colorado Future Fund –including its operation, control, expenditures or funding." He added that "we do not comment on the future or planned activities of clients or other groups with whom we are involved," citing confidentiality concerns. Candidate committees are not supposed to coordinate with super PACs.
Zakhem's law firm does have connections to other groups active in the 2012 elections. For example, Zakhem himself is listed as the registered agent for the Cheyenne Mountain Republican Forum Political Committee, a political committee dedicated to electing Republicans to state offices in Colorado. The group has reported spending $20,000 so far.
Smith was also treasurer for Solutions 2012, a small pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC, as well as for the Raising Red Action Fund, an anti-Obama super PAC that has raised more than $286,000 but so far has spent only $10,000 on independent expenditures. The bulk of that money, $200,000 came from conservative John Templeton, who is president of the John Templeton Foundation and has given heavily to GOP candidates and causes.
Over the years, Zakhem, himself a donor to GOP candidates at the federal and state level, has been involved with numerous GOP connected groups. He was the attorney for Trailhead, a 527 founded by then Gov. Bill Owens, conservative donor and former Senate candidate Pete Coors, and others, that drew controversy in the 2006 elections, while at the same time serving as attorney for the state political party. And he represented Colorado Republicans in a major redistricting case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. He is the son of Sam Zakhem, the former ambassador to Bahrain.
Charlie Smith did not return an email request for comment at the time of this posting.