Posted: Nov. 30, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Colin Bonini was at the point where he was fooling none of the people none of the time.

Almost as soon as he was elected in 1994 as a Republican state senator, a never-say-die conservative bursting with pie-in-the-sky enthusiasm, he talked about running statewide.

U.S. Senate, treasurer, lieutenant governor, whatever, Bonini ogled higher office for 15 years while nothing came of it. He was a political window-shopper, that was all.

By the time Bonini made noises last year about lieutenant governor, people were not fooled, not even when he passed around please-vote-Colin-Bonini-lt.-governor emery boards. True to form, he never filed for office. At least he filed some fingernails.

With another election year lurking, so is Bonini. No surprise there. Instead, the surprise is he really is acting like a candidate and quacking like a candidate.

Bonini, now 44 years old, would like to be the next state treasurer. It makes some sense. He is in the middle of a term from his Dover-area legislative district and does not have to resign to run.

Furthermore, Bonini would be seeking the next best thing to an open seat. The current treasurer is Velda Jones-Potter, a Democrat who was appointed by Gov. Jack Markell to replace himself. She is running for the office but faces a primary for the nomination against Chip Flowers, a lawyer.

About two weeks ago, Bonini put a bunch of Republicans in a room to discuss his intentions and raise some seed money for his campaign, with tickets priced at $250 a couple. It was not just any room, and they were not just any Republicans.

The room was part of the Chateau Country home of Michele Rollins, the businesswoman behind Dover Downs and a Jamaican luxury resort. The Republicans talking up Bonini in front of 150 people or so were former Gov. Pete du Pont and Congressman Mike Castle.

Now this was certainly serious. Bonini had better not fool any of these people any of the time, or the only running he will be fit for is running away. Preferably to the federal witness protection program.

"Colin is a wonderful candidate. He's fiscally conservative, and Delaware needs that. I think he's going [to run] this time," du Pont said.

The crowd included the party leaders -- state Chair Tom Ross, National Committeewoman Priscilla Rakestraw and National Committeeman Laird Stabler -- and all the Republican senators but Joe Booth, who went instead to a fund-raiser Bonini held downstate two days later. Charlie Copeland, the former Senate minority leader who is being urged to run for the Congress, was there, too.

Bonini, who is big and gregarious and often seems more off-the-cuff than on it, was all business that evening. He gave a little speech extolling less government and taxes, just the right pitch for his listeners. The room was full of people who knew President Obama's promise not to raise taxes except at the upper reaches came with the message this-means-you.

"In a horrible hot summer in Philadelphia, they put together the most just, the most moral and the most successful experiment in history. Fundamental to that experiment was the belief that when you get up in the morning and you toil all day, you get to keep the rewards of that toil. Quite frankly, we have forgotten that lesson. If I can be blunt, our state government is out of control," Bonini said.

"Someone in Delaware needs to remind the government that it's not their money, it's yours. . . .

"I know many people say, who really cares who the state treasurer is? With your help, I will make them care."

If there were any doubts left about Bonini, he went beyond acting and quacking like a candidate to setting up a PAC like a candidate. Charlie Copeland announced it for him. It will be called the "Responsible Delaware PAC."

Copeland was the right choice to talk about it, because he took PACs to a new level when he ran for lieutenant governor last year. Matt Denn, the Democrat who won, countered with one of his own.

PACs, or political action committees, have more leeway than candidates. Under state law, candidates are limited to collecting a maximum of $1,200 from an individual contributor, while PACs have no limits on contribution size.

PACs are free to spend on anything that candidates can, except for "express advocacy." This means PACs are barred by law from broadcasting political spots or sending mailers expressly on behalf of a candidate. In other words, Bonini's PAC could not call for him to be elected treasurer, but it could call for fiscal conservatism in state government, his key issue.

Never mind that voters still would come away with the idea they are supposed to vote for Bonini.

PACs are the crack cocaine of campaign money. Bonini is welcome to one, but it does seem strange that the opening act of a fiscal conservative is to create a mechanism for extracting swollen heaps of dollars so he can spend, spend, spend.