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Harassment claims surface in Morse recall campaign

By: Jesse Byrnes jesse.byrnes@gazette.com
July 1, 2013 Updated: July 1, 2013 at 8:30 pm
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About a dozen people claim they have been harassed by members of Sen. John Morse's campaign after they received calls urging them to take their names off the recall list.

"If I signed it in good faith why would I want my name taken off? It made me suspicious," said Barbi Brown, 81, who pieced together the call source after seeing mailings and talking to neighbors in her apartment building near Memorial Park who also got a call.

"The man did not do the job that he was elected to do," she said of Morse, noting that she went into a gun shop for the first time in her life to sign the petition.

George Knox, 80, said that the person who called him refused multiple times to identify herself, saying she was from a call center and later mentioning it was associated with the Morse campaign. He asked to speak with the caller's supervisor and was told none was available.

In the past few weeks, those with A Whole Lot of People for John Morse, the group opposing the recall, have called about a thousand people who signed the petitions, said Christy Le Lait, campaign manager for the group.

Of those, more than 100 have contacted the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, the group behind the recall effort, asking why they were contacted, said Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman with the group.

Kern said hanging up or refusing to be identified was a "systematic tactic" by the Morse campaign.

"He's so desperate to keep his seat that he's intimidating Democrats, Republicans, Independents, senior citizens, women and the infirm," Kern said, noting that signers came from across party lines.

Most of the calls were made from the group's downtown Colorado Springs office, though a few were made from elsewhere, Le Lait said.

Callers are instructed to give their first name, ask if the person signed the petition and if they know what it's for, then end by saying that the call was paid for by A Whole Lot of People for John Morse, Le Lait said.

That doesn't always happen, Le Lait said, adding that callers have been instructed to end the conversation if the person on the other line starts yelling.

One man claimed that the caller joked that he "might be audited." Since it came around the time of news that the IRS was targeting conservative groups, he took it as a possible threat, Kern said.

"I'm not sure what that's about," Le Lait responded, noting that the IRS news was weeks ago and likely didn't overlap.

So far, A Whole Lot of People has uncovered 55 signatures of the 10,137 the secretary of state verified last week that they believe to be fraudulent, Le Lait said. The phone calls and going door-to-door are used to verify signatures and take account of possible identity theft, according to Le Lait.

"Most people we've talked to have been more than happy to confirm that it's their signature," Le Lait said. "My sense is that what they're considering harassment is just the fact that we called."

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