DENVER – In a final push to gain control of the state House, the Democrats’ powerful political machine has thrown the throttle wide open – targeting independent and Republican candidates who are standing in the way.
Though finance laws prohibit campaigns from coordinating and communicating with independent political committees, some question whether Democrats have crossed that line.
In May, the Colorado Democratic Party invited their candidates to participate in a series of photo shoots at various sites. One after another the candidates took turns being photographed surveying a solar-panel roof, sitting with elementary school children in a classroom, posing with a group of students in a library and chatting with a mother and toddler in a neighborhood.
Though the adults and kids wore the same outfits in each shot, a few candidates switched a jacket or shirt between takes – none more than Brittany Pettersen who apparently brought a quick-change wardrobe.
Jefferson County Democratic Party Chair Chris Kennedy said that both political parties offer these photo ops to candidates, but it doesn’t mean the adults and children were paid models. In 2010, Kennedy said he had long hair, donned a hardhat and posed as a construction worker in photos for Democrats’ campaigns.
The Republican Party does offer candidates the opportunity to be photographed alone or with family members, but candidates aren’t rotated in staged shots. The party official said their candidates prefer being photographed talking with neighbors in their precinct or owners of local businesses.
The Democratic Party coordinated and paid for their candidates’ professional photographs. The $292.86 contribution was listed on the finance reports filed by at least three candidates, state Rep. Daniel Kagan of Greenwood Village, state Rep. Max Tyler and Brittany Pettersen, both of Lakewood.
Photos from the shoots appeared in mailers with the disclaimer they were financed by the candidate campaign committees – but some also appeared in mailers stating, “Paid for by the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance Independent Expenditure Committee, Julie Wells registered agent. Not authorized by the candidate.”
“This was preplanned and staged,” said state Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) of the shared photos and vendors who designed and published the mailers and walk pieces.
That could be viewed, he said, as coordination between the campaigns and independent expenditure committees in violation of the state campaign finance laws.
Or were the photos retrieved by vendors hired by the committees from an obscure source or website?
“The people of the state of Colorado deserve open, fair and transparent elections,” declared Assistant House Majority Leader Mark Waller of Colorado Springs.
Unlike Kagan, Tyler and Pettersen, their Republican opponents openly post their campaign photos or links to them on their campaign websites and accessible from the state GOP website. The Republicans commitment to transparency resulted in photos being copied and pasted in mailers attacking them.
- In House District 3, Brian Watson’s profile photo was pasted atop a tuxedo-clad guy with a flute of champagne spending big bucks and not paying taxes – the allegations were deemed false, but the attack continues. Ironically, his opponent, Democrat millionaire Kagan, has ducked questions about his own finances, tax records and bio.
- In House District 28, Amy Attwood’s photo was lifted and plastered on a mailer claiming “giving up” was her plan for public schools. In fact, the Republican is more invested in children’s education than her Democrat challenger Pettersen – Attwood’s sons attend Jefferson County public schools.
- In House District 23, businessman Rick Enstrom was shocked to see his campaign photo used in a fake mug shot with false claims that he had been arrested 27 years ago. The mailer was so controversial that Tyler swiftly denied any involvement in a terse message on his website.
Those mailers were produced by the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance Independent Expenditure Committee registered by Wells.
“Outside special interest groups are totally dominating this race, spending nearly 10 times as much as my campaign. These PAC/527/Independent expenditure committees are totally unaccountable,” declared Tyler. “Candidates are prohibited from coordinating with them or communicating in any way.
Tyler was contacted at his home, but instead handed the phone to Kennedy, who serves as county party chair and paid Democratic Party consultant, and previously Tyler’s legislative aide. Kennedy said neither Tyler nor Pettersen would comment for the story because it’s too close to the election.
“No comment,” said Kagan repeatedly to questions about the photo shoot and how the independent committees have obtained the pictures.
A major player in the Democratic Party’s campaign strategy, Wells is an attorney and well acquainted with campaign laws. She is the registered agent for several 527 and independent expenditure committees that operate in spider web network that gives “follow the money” new meaning.