A Gamble, And A Dogfight, In the 5th CD

UPDATE Sunday, Sept. 2: The Denver Post today published the text of the phone messages that Rep. Lamborn left on Jonathan and Anna Bartha’s answering machine. The messages appear at the bottom of this story.

It is unclear exactly what motivated Congressman Doug Lamborn to unleash an attack on a Colorado Springs couple who criticized his vote against stiffening penalties for dogfighting and for accepting campaign contributions from gambling interests.

Federal Election Commission records show that Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, has indeed accepted contributions from gaming interests. The records further indicate that they have not been returned.

Yet in a strongly-worded letter, Lamborn is demanding that the chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party launch an investigation. Jon Hotaling, Lamborn’s campaign manager, did not return a phone call seeking clarity.

Keep reading.The bizarre saga started three weeks ago, after Republican Jeff Crank announced plans to run against Lamborn.

Just after the announcement, Greg Garcia, the chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party issued a letter laying down the law: False and misleading statements about candidates, Garcia wrote, would not be tolerated.

“We will work vigorously to encourage all the candidates in a primary to hold themselves, their direct, and their indirect supporters accountable to a high standard of integrity,” Garcia wrote. The letter was a clear reference to the nastiness that engulfed last year’s GOP primary to replace Rep. Joel Hefley, who retired after 20 years in Congress. (Click here to read the full letter.)

Last week, the Woodman Edition, a weekly newspaper that covers northern Colorado Springs, published a letter to the editor from well-known Republican activists Jonathan and Anna Bartha. In the letter, the Barthas criticized Lamborn for accepting contributions from gambling interests, as well as his recent vote against stiffening the penalties for dogfighting.

“As a congressman who ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and traditional family values, we’re hard pressed to understand why he has accepted money from an industry that tears at the social fabric of our country,” the Barthas wrote.

Federal Election Commission records show that Lamborn received contributions from International Game Technology’s PAC in January, and from the general manager of Bronco Billy’s, a Cripple Creek casino, last June. Lamborn’s records do not state that any of those contributions have been returned. Further, in a news story published in the Colorado Springs Gazette last Aug. 1 details Lamborn’s own admission that he accepted the campaign contribution from the casino manager. His explanation came last summer during a candidate’s debate at Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family.

According to the Gazette, “Lamborn, a state senator, was the only candidate who said he received a contribution from a casino owner. Lamborn said Bronco Billy’s Casino general manager Marc Murphy gave him $500 because he agrees with his opposition to expanding gambling in Colorado.”

Yet in his letter this week to chairman Garcia, Lamborn demanded an investigation into what he depicted as scurrilous lies and misinformation.

“A simple review of my FEC filing shows that I have NEVER accepted a contribution from this company [IGT], or any similar company,” Lamborn wrote. “In fact, my opposition to gambling is well known throughout my legislative career. I was the one who sued the State of Colorado when Powerball was first introduced in an attempt to stop it. To try to say otherwise about my record is a misrepresentation, especially by using a falsehood that says I accepted a contribution I never did.”

This is Jonathan and Anna Bartha’s letter that ran in the Woodman Edition:

We are conservative Republicans and believe in the individual freedoms granted to us by our Founding Fathers. However, there are moral limits that caring individuals can embrace without sacrificing the value of personal fiscal responsibility.

Recently, we have discovered that earlier this year 5th District Congressman Doug Lamborn accepted a $1,000 campaign contribution from International Game Technology PAC. IGT is one of the largest manufacturers of gambling equipment in the world. Last summer, Congressman Lamborn accepted a $500 contribution from the operator of Bronco Billy’s Casino in Cripple Creek.

As a congressman who ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and traditional family values, we’re hard pressed to understand why he has accepted money from an industry that tears at the social fabric of our country.

Congressman Lamborn also showed a lack of discretion earlier this legislative session when he voted against [Colorado Republican] Sen. Wayne Allard’s bill to stiffen penalties against the practice of dog fighting (he was the only member of the Colorado delegation to do so.) This bill passed by an overwhelming margin and has been signed into law by President Bush.

Jonathan and Anna Bartha

And this is the letter that Lamborn sent to GOP Chairman Greg Garcia accusing the Barthas of lying and demanding an investigation:

An Open Letter for Chairman Greg Garcia to Republicans of El Paso County:

An unfortunate incident has just occurred that calls for your immediate attention as soon as you return to town from vacation. I want to set the record straight with good people in the Republican Party without waiting for your return, however.

It’s wonderful that you have recently stated, both to the Gazette in an interview dated August 16, and in an open letter to the citizens of five area counties dated August 8, that “Our party will no longer tolerate false or misleading statements or innuendos.” Your timing is perfect.

In a letter to the editor published in the August 24, 2007 Woodmen Edition, Ann [sic] Bartha, a Bonus Member, and her husband Jonathan stated that I had accepted a campaign contribution from the PAC for a company that manufactures gambling equipment (International Game Technology).

This is completely false.

My Federal Election Commission filing for that quarter showing all PAC contributions is attached for your review. In addition, in a few moments you or anyone else on their own can access FEC filings with a few easy clicks, including individual contributions, other time periods, etc.

A simple review of my FEC filing shows that I have NEVER accepted a contribution from this company, or any similar company. In fact, my opposition to gambling is well known throughout my legislative career. I was the one who sued the State of Colorado when Powerball was first introduced in an attempt to stop it. To try to say otherwise about my record is a misrepresentation, especially by using a falsehood that says I accepted a contribution I never did. (In the same letter, the Barthas say I received a contribution in 2006 from a Cripple Creek casino employee without revealing that I later returned it, which is also misleading.)

You go on to say, Greg, in both your newspaper interview and your press release, that you will set up an investigative process to get to the bottom of allegedly false statements, in addition to possible punishment. This applies, you say, to candidates, their campaigns, and their supporters. This undoubtedly refers to Ann [sic] Bartha because she was a paid political operative of Mr. Jeff Crank in the last election, and presumably is still his supporter.

Greg, I stand by to assist you however I can as you set up an appropriate investigative process, and contemplate an appropriate punishment. Also, because you require in the newspaper interview “that candidates disavow any statements that are made by their campaigns or supporters and are found to be untrue,” we should all call upon Mr. Crank to denounce the false statements of the Barthas.

I don’t see how there could be a more clear case of making a “false or misleading statements”–when someone says an elected official accepted a campaign contribution which he actually did not. This is especially so when it is done with an apparent intent to impugn the elected official’s judgment and integrity.

It’s good to try to be reconciled with people wherever possible. That’s why I attempted to contact the Barthas before making this statement to my friends in the local Republican Party. However, I got no response. This kind of personal reaching out can be quite helpful — had the Barthas bothered to ask us before publishing their accusations they would have learned that we were indeed sent a check by this company, but that due to our objections to gambling we sent it right back and did not even deposit it.

In conclusion, Greg, I’m glad that you intend to hold candidates, their campaigns, and their supporters to “a high standard of integrity.” I’m confident that you would agree with me that falsely stating someone has accepted a contribution they really did not fails the “high standard of integrity” test.

Thanks for your attention to this serious matter. I’m so glad you want to keep local elections clean and positive. You have just been given a golden opportunity to show us exactly how you intend to do that.

Yours truly,
Doug Lamborn


UPDATE: From the Denver Post, these are the two voice messages that Rep. Doug Lamborn left on the home telephone of Jonathan and Anna Bartha:

FIRST MESSAGE: “Hello, this is Doug Lamborn calling for either Jonathan or Anna. Something very serious has happened. There was a letter to the editor that you both put in your names to the editor of the Woodmen Edition and there is something that is blatantly false in that letter.

“I would like to get together with you and show this to you and appeal to you as a brother and sister in Christ. You didn’t give me that opportunity but I am happy to overlook that and deal with you on that level because I think that is the right thing to do and show you where you made a blatant, wrong statement.

“Now there are consequences to this kind of thing, but I would like to work with you in a way that is best for everyone here concerned. So please call me at your earliest convenience. It is now 2:40 (p.m.) on Saturday afternoon.

SECOND MESSAGE: “Hello, this is Doug Lamborn again, I’m finishing up my message from a moment ago. I got cut off. It is critical that you get back to me as soon as possible on this because I’ll be going back to Washington here in a few days and I have to make sure that this is resolved one way or another. And like I said I’d rather resolve this on a Scriptural level but if you are unwilling to do that I will be forced to take other steps, which I would rather not have to do. So please call me. This is essential. Call me by tonight, Saturday night and we can get together sometime Sunday afternoon.”

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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