Got Scandal? Call Out A Photo Op

Welcome to the season of guerilla political theater, the place of dueling ideologies where press types are invited to come and embrace … the photo op.

Last Thursday’s main event was sponsored by the conservative Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara, who issued a mass invite to the media to come and take pictures of him waving around 175 open records requests he plans to send to school districts in anticipation of a lawsuit he says he’ll file over Gov. Bill Ritter’s property tax freeze.

Not to be outdone, tomorrow Michael Huttner, executive director of the liberal ProgressNowAction, is staging a photo op of his own. At noon, he’ll appear at the State Board of Education’s work session in Denver, to accuse Republican US Senate candidate Bob Schaffer of corruption.And, apparently, if you invite the press to take your picture, they will come.

After Caldara’s self-described photo-op, subsequent news reports detailed his plan, to sue the state over the property tax freeze to help pay for public education, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law. Caldara insists the move represents a violation of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, but Ritter, along with several lawmakers, say that voters in 175 of 178 school districts have already OK’ed measures allowing the government to keep excess revenues for public education. The property tax freeze was actually the brainchild of Republican lawmakers several years ago, but wasn’t adopted until this year.

“When I was raised, my momma always told me that gentlemen ask first,” Caldara was widely quoted saying during his press conference. (Some, but not all of the news reports noted that Caldara previously compared the property tax freeze to “fiscal date-rape” – a term that received criticism.)

The Denver Post noted that Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, termed Caldara’s event a “tasteless stunt.”

And doubtless, someone else will be on hand to similarly describe Huttner’s self-described photo op tomorrow.

Specifically, Huttner is raising a ruckus over Schaffer’s acceptance of campaign contributions from David Brennan, the president of White Hat Management, which operates for-profit charter schools. Schaffer, a state board of education member, supports charter schools and recently cast the deciding vote urging Denver Public Schools to reconsider its recent termination of a White Hat-operated school.

Part of Huttner’s complaint was that Schaffer did not disclose to other board members that he had accepted contributions from White Hat’s Brennan.

“I think Schaffer is selling his vote to the highest donor,” Huttner told the Post.

However, when Huttner’s claim first surfaced, Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams quickly jumped in with a guerilla political move of his own, noting that Schaffer’s opponent, Mark Udall, has accepted money from unions – and voted on issues involving unions without disclosing those contributions.

And it’s barely August.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com

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