Just days before the primary election, state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt is fighting back against a political advocacy group he believes to be responsible for mailing attack ads against him to Republican voters in his district.
Klingenschmitt, who faces Bob Gardner in the state Senate District 12 race Tuesday, submitted a letter to 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office Thursday calling for a criminal investigation into former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, founder of nonprofit Colorado Pioneer Action.
In the letter, Klingenschmitt said the mailers contain false information, a misdemeanor under state law. He added that the ads also violate campaign finance law because they do not identify what individual or organization sent them.
The mailers can be traced back to Colorado Right Now, a committee that spent $66,000 on mailers targeting him and Senate District 4 candidate Jess Loban between June 8 and June 15, according to a report filed by the committee.
Klingenschmitt believes the committee was established by Beauprez's group Colorado Pioneer Action to get around state campaign finance law, which prohibits nonprofits from distributing campaign material that expressly opposes or supports a candidate within 30 days of a primary election.
"These are criminal charges. I swore an oath to defend the constitution and defend the law, and I'm trying to uphold my oath," Klingenschmitt said. "This is clearly the liberal big-money establishment trying to attack conservative Republicans across the state."
Colorado Right Now's designated filing agent, Justin Prendergast, is also named a "suspect" in the letter. Prendergast has an email address under the domain @pioneeraction.org. He declined to comment on whether a connection exists between Colorado Pioneer Action and Colorado Right Now.
"We're very confident that we are in compliance with the law, and the things we've said about Gordon Klingenschmitt are nothing but true," Prendergast said.
The ads, printed on postcards, imply that Klingenschmitt makes money from his nonprofit charity Pray in Jesus Name Ministries with incriminating questions, such as, "Does Representative Klingenschmitt see religion as a pathway to profit?" and "What is Gordon Klingenshchmitt hiding?" One states that he accepted more than $1 million in donations "with no accountability." Another states that he has refused to release his taxes.
A Gazette story, referenced in Klingenschmitt's letter, reviewed information from three years of tax returns, an audited financial statement and his certified public accountant and found that he does not accept a salary or other compensation from the nonprofit.
According to the Secretary of State's Office, "paid for by" disclaimers are only required if the content of a message contains "express advocacy," or contains phrases like "vote for" or "vote against."
"The fact is they don't like the political truth contained within the ads," said Jon Anderson, legal counsel for Colorado Right Now. "They're trying to find a way to pull the ads down or attack the ads, but they can't find any grounds to do it because they're fully legally compliant."
Loban has also filed a complaint letter with the district attorney's office stating the mailers include inaccurate statements - that he is pro-choice, that he allows members of ISIS into the country and that he wants to legalize all drugs.
"We're cannibalizing our own party," Loban said. "All we're doing is causing infighting and degradation of our own candidates. All it does is weakens us when we head to the general elections and face democratic opponents."
The mailings have also targeted House District 63 candidate Lori Saine and Rep. Janak Joshi, an incumbent running against former state legislator Larry Liston in House District 16.
Joshi is also considering filing a complaint, according to Jon Hotaling, a political consultant working for his campaign.
"The liberal shadow groups supporting my opponent are spreading lies about me because I'm a proven conservative Republican, and that's why we've set up the web site LarryLies.com so voters can see the facts for themselves," Joshi said in a statement.
Matt Arnold, director of Campaign Integrity Watchdog, believes there is a legal basis for the complaints against Prendergast and Beauprez and his organization may partner with the candidates targeted in the ads to file a complaint with the state.
"These little sneak attacks and the mudslinging that is anonymous and under the table - it's blatantly illegal, and it turns people off from politics," Arnold said.
Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108