Face The Coordination

UPDATE: Colorado Senate News has changed its registration information.

Democratic Rep. Mike Merrifield resigned from his post as chairman of the House Education Committee last week after an e-mail was made public in which he criticized charter schools. The story first originated on the Web site Face the State, whose owner is also the proprietor of a site used by the Colorado Senate Minority Office for its official media communications.The open records request that revealed Merrifield’s e-mail was made by attorney Richard W. Daily on behalf of his client, Face the State, which Daily describes as a “brand new news organization.” Face the State is owned by Brad Jones, a consultant with long ties to the state Republican Party

But here’s where things get sticky: Jones is also the owner of the Web site ColoradoSenateNews.com, which is the communications hub of the Colorado Senate Minority Office. The same person behind the filing of an open records request against Democratic legislators owns the Web site that the Senate Minority Caucus uses for its press operation. Notice how the domain names for each site were registered within one day of each other.

FACETHESTATE.COM
Face the State, Inc.
c/o Brad Jones LLC
PO Box 3013
Boulder, Colorado 80307-3013
Registered on: December 12, 2006

COLORADOSENATENEWS.COM
Bradley Jones
PO Box 3013
Boulder, Colorado 80307
Registered on: December 13, 2006

According to Steve Grazier of the Senate Minority Communications Office, ColoradoSenateNews.com is maintained by the Senate minority caucus. Staffers, who are state employees, are responsible for updating stories, photos, policy papers and audio clips.

“We maintain it,” says Grazier of the minority office staff. “It’s all done in-house.”

Since the beginning of the legislative session, press alerts sent out by communications staff have directed the reader to ColoradoSenateNews.com for the complete press release. The contact information on the site directs readers to an address at the Colorado State Capitol. The site is the communications center for Republicans in the state Senate, but it appears that the state-run communications office funnels all of its materials through a privately-owned Web site.

Grazier said that he was unaware that Jones owned ColoradoSenateNews.com and didn’t know who paid for the Web site, but he did know that Jones was responsible for designing ColoradoSenateNews.com.

“We didn’t build it,” says Grazier, referring to the Senate minority communications office.

As recently as Friday, March 30, ColoradoSenateNews.com indicated at the bottom of the page that it was “An online service of the Senate Minority Office” and included “Hosted by Brad Jones LLC.” But as of Monday, April 2, both lines of text had been removed (click here to see the cached page before the text was removed).

Because Jones is listed as the registrant, the administrative contact and the technical contact for both ColoradoSenateNews.com and FacetheState.com, it begs the obvious question of what the role the Senate minority caucus played in filing open records requests against Democratic legislators.

Grazier says that he was unaware of the open records requests until the results were posted at Face The State, but it didn’t take long for the communications office to send out a gleeful press release about the exchange titled “Incendiary e-mails backfire on charter school foes.”

A controversial e-mail exchange between two legislative foes of charter schools not only has infuriated education reformers of both parties in the General Assembly but also has emboldened them to push back. They say they now plan to use a pending Senate bill that originally reined in charters to advance charter schools instead.

The e-mails between Senate Education Committee Chair Sue Windels and House Education Committee Chair Michael Merrifield, both Democrats, were sent last December but first disclosed this week on the blog www.facethestate.com.

The press release includes a link to a copy of the Merrifield e-mail, which has a ‘Face the State’ logo at the top of the page. The release was sent from a state e-mail address, with a reply address of joseph.megyesy@state.co.us titled ‘ColoradoSenateNews.com.’

Jones did not respond to requests for comment on this story, which leaves several unanswered questions regarding the connection between his work and the state office of the Senate minority caucus.

Given that FaceTheState.com and ColoradoSenateNews.com were registered by Jones within one day of each other, was the open records request filed against Merrifield part of a long-planned coordinated arrangement? The open records request in question was filed on behalf of Face The State, and the information received went to the same person who operates the Senate minority communications Web site. In effect, the Senate minority caucus may have requested the open records request, so did state employees participate in partisan attacks on Democratic legislators?

Face The State may be a “new news organization,” as its attorney claimed in the open records request, but its ties to the Senate minority caucus are more than coincidence.

CORRECTION: We had the wrong picture of Brad Jones in an earlier post and have corrected the photo.

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Jason Bane

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