State House candidates fed up with super PACs
October 30, 2014
Steamboat Springs — It was during the 2012 race for Colorado House District 26 that Democratic candidate Diane Mitsch Bush found herself the target of a cartoon-style political mailing branding her as the "abominable tax monster." The mailer wasn't authorized by her Republican opponent, Chuck McConnell.
Mitsch Bush ultimately won that election, and now in 2014, with the same two candidates facing off again for the same legislative seat, a familiar scenario is playing out in voters' mailboxes. Only this time, it is McConnell who is taking the brunt of critical mailers that Mitsch Bush said she has no control over.
A glossy flier emblazoned with block letters reading, "BADMEN: Chuck McConnell's view on women are from another time," landed in mailboxes here this week and, according to McConnell, piled up in rubbish bins at the post office.
"You can cut the irony with a knife," McConnell said. "I can't do anything about it. I came in from an event from Eagle County last night and saw a whole stack of those in the post office. I kind of had to laugh. One thing that minimizes the anxiety is knowing those same mailers are going out against candidates all over the state."
McConnell said he has made it plain in appearances that he is not campaigning on issues relating to reproductive rights.
"I have made unequivocal statements that says those issues are not issues that are my issues. My issues are jobs and the economy," McConnell said. "I'm working my backside off as hard as I can, and I haven't gone negative with my own money, obviously."
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Mitsch Bush makes no effort to disguise her disdain for super PAC committees regardless of who they are, or aren't, purporting to support.
"I hate them," she said. "I find that they add to voters' disgust with negative campaigning. I think they really promote cynicism — to me, that's their biggest negative impacts, aside from the fact that they attack people. I never attack my opponent. I talk about my record."
McConnell said the charge, made in another super PAC mailer, that he backs a plan to drain tax dollars out of public schools in Routt and Eagle counties and send them to private schools in Denver is "ludicrous but probably hurting me."
Mitsch Bush said she has met registered voters who said they are so disaffected that they may not cast a ballot in Tuesday's election.
A super PAC, Priorities for Colorado Independent Expenditure Committee, paid for the mailers, according to the Colorado secretary of state's Elections Office. Documents on file there confirm that Priorities for Colorado, with a registered address, spent just shy of $35,000 from Oct. 15 to 22 with two Washington, D.C., firms specializing in media campaigns in support of Democratic candidates.
A political reporting site, http://www.opensecrets.org, maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, was reporting this week that as of Thursday, super PACs nationally have reported total receipts of more than $593 million and total independent expenditures of more than $327 million in the 2014 election cycle.
An important consideration when it comes to the super PACs is that they are forbidden by law to be in contact with the candidates, which means they act without the knowledge of the candidates whose opponents they are attacking.
Records show that Oct. 15, Priorities for Colorado spent $12,935 with a firm called Gumbinner, Davies & Simpson for mailers. GD&S describes itself as "one of the top direct mail firms in the country for Democratic campaigns and progressive institutions."
The expenditure is characterized by the secretary of state's office as being in opposition to McConnell but not in support of any candidate.
Also Oct. 15, Priorities for Colorado spent $11,030 with a different firm, Mundy Katowitz Media, on unspecified "media." In this case, the record at the secretary of state's office indicates the media placement was made in support of Mitsch Bush and in opposition of McConnell.
Then Oct. 22, Mundy Katowitz was paid another $11,030, this time for "radio" supporting Mitsch Bush and in opposition to McConnell.
Mitsch Bush said that for her, one of the most concerning things about unauthorized campaign materials is that her constituents don't always discern between campaign messages that are authorized by her campaign committee and others that she had no knowledge of. She related a phone message from a constituent who asked her (paraphrasing), "Why would you run an ad like that?"
She wants voters to know that if they encounter an ad that appears to be in support of her re-election but doesn't contain the phrase, "Paid for by Citizens to Elect Diane Mitsch Bush for Colorado HD26 …" it's a clear sign that her campaign had nothing to do with it.