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Steamboat Springs If there’s such a thing as an abominable tax monster living “high up in the snow-covered Rockies” that wants to raise taxes on the middle class, Denver-based Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government wants voters to believe it is personified by Democratic Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, a candidate for the newly created Colorado House District 26 comprising Routt and Eagle counties.
“At first when I saw the abominable tax monster, I felt it in my solar plexus,” Mitsch Bush said Tuesday. “Then I decided it was just funny. This group doesn’t know anything about Colorado.”
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside money is flowing into Citizens for Accountable Government to underwrite attack ads in the form of colorful mailers printed on heavy coated stock with eye-catching, sometimes cartoonish graphics. Similar mailers have turned up in Colorado Springs and Durango and presumably other communities where contested races for the state Legislature are entering their final stages.
The mailers that turned up in mailboxes here this week criticize Mitsch Bush on tax and unemployment issues.
Documents on file with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office show that Citizens for Accountable Government received $350,000 in the reporting period from Sept. 27 through Oct. 10 from the Washington, D.C.–based Republican State Leadership Committee. More than $310,000 of that was spent in the same timeframe.
Of the expenditures, $246,510 went to pay bills from Targeted Creative Communications in Alexandria, Va. Another $63,620 went to Anthem Media in Austin, Texas.
The Republican State Leadership Committee also sent $150,000 to Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government during the period from Sept. 13 to 27.
The mailer tagging Mitsch Bush as the “Abominable Tax Monster of the Rockies” reads: “Our families are facing tough times. The economy is rotten, we’re struggling to make ends meet. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
“But politician Diane Mitsch Bush will make it even harder on middle class families. She wants to raise our taxes even higher.”
The mailer goes on to say that Mitsch Bush fought for a mill levy property tax on Routt County families, but it isn’t specific.
“The most egregious lie is the notion that I fought for a property tax increase,” Mitsch Bush said. “First and foremost, in Colorado, only the voters can raise taxes. A county commissioner can’t. A legislator can’t. The governor can’t.
“What they may be referring to is in 2007, our board ran a ballot issue asking the voters if they wanted to approved a mill levy increase of a series of very specific county road projects. I made a couple of presentations. It went down in flames, so the voters had their say.”
Andrew Nickel, a registered agent for Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, did not return phone calls Tuesday.
The Abominable Tax Monster mailer features a cartoon graphic of a grinning, toothy yeti picking a packet of bills off a snowy mountainside. A second mailer is labeled: “Diane Mitsch Bush wastes mountains of our tax money.” It features a color photograph of a woman skier jumping off a cornice with $100 bills flying from the tails of her skis like powder snow.
Mitsch Bush also rejected claims in the attack ads that she is responsible for local unemployment rates and that she wants to raise taxes on automobiles. The latter claim, she said, is likely a reference to the bill passed by the state Legislature in 2010 that raised vehicle registration fees by an average of about $40 per vehicle to boost state funds for highways and bridges. She would have voted for the fees had she been in the state Legislature at the time, she said.
Entities like Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government are commonly called 527s for the portion of the tax code that enables them. They are not allowed to have direct contact with political candidates.
A second 527, Colorado Leadership Fund, is distributing mailers supporting Mitsch Bush’s Republican opponent Chuck McConnell.
McConnell said Tuesday he wasn’t contacted about any of the mailers, and he said the one that specifically supports him contains an error about his personal history. He added he was as surprised as anyone when he saw the mailers that are critical of Mitsch Bush.
“Nobody has contacted me and I just don’t have anything to do with that,” McConnell said. “I think that if you look at my newspaper ads, all I do is talk about who I am and what my priorities are.”
McConnell said he hasn't been immune to attacks from outside political money, noting that some of his supporters say has been the object of some negative telephone push polls this election season.
Rich Coolidge, communications director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said Tuesday that Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government is obligated to name the candidates referenced in its mailings as part of the public record of its campaign expenditures. He confirmed that his own search of the database did not turn up any such records. However, the Secretary of State would not take action on that matter absent a complaint from the public, he said.
“The constitution lays out a citizen complaint-driven process,” Coolidge said.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com