Driving Time With Ax Murderers

Lou Mellini, station manager of The Eagle 103 FM radio station in Colorado Springs, asserted today that he could not yank from the airwaves an ad containing false statements about a political candidate – even if the politico was wrongly accused of being an ax murderer – unless he was ordered to do so by the District Attorney.

“Even if I got 3,000 phone calls in the next 20 minutes we still won’t pull it unless we hear from the authorities – the DA’s office,” Mellini said.

To which John Newsome, Colorado’s 4th Judicial District Attorney responded, “That’s news to this DA. I don’t have any enforcement over what the radio stations air.”At issue is a radio ad that has been appearing on two Colorado Springs radio stations accusing Democrat John Morse, a former police chief and candidate for Colorado’s Senate District 11, of being “incompetent” because a case under his watch resulted in a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, conviction. The case that is referred to, Morse says, actually did result in a felony conviction, with three years jail time. (Not to mention police officers – even chiefs – do not prosecute criminal cases).

The radio ad, which is airing every several hours, was paid for by the Denver-based Republican 527 Trailhead Group. As reported earlier by Colorado Confidential, Morse, who is challenging incumbent Ed Jones, has demanded the stations pull the ad off the air.

A Colorado law, passed last year, makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor for any person to “…recklessly make, publish, broadcast, or circulate or cause to be made, published, broadcasted or circulated in any letter, circular, advertisement, or poster or any other communication any false statement designed to affect the vote on any issue submitted to the electors at any election or relating to any candidate for election to public office.” Recklessly is defined as acting “…in conscious disregard of the truth or falsity of the statement made, published, broadcasted, or circulated.”

Newsome says the law has resulted in rumbling among district attorneys statewide, particularly over false and misleading political advertising. Hot spots have popped up in political races in Mesa and Jefferson counties, as well as El Paso, he said.

If the Morse campaign, or any member of the public, wants to file a criminal complaint, Newsome said his office can pursue a criminal investigation. The penalties for Class 2 misdemeanors can range from three to 12 months in jail, and up to $1,000 in fines.

However – unlike Eagle station manager Mellini’s assertion that his hands are tied – Morse does have additional recourse beyond requesting a criminal investigation. The manager of another Colorado Springs station that is airing the ad, KVOR 740 AM, said that the candidate could file a complaint via an attorney, and, if the ad was found to contain false information, it would be pulled. Morse can also contact the Federal Communications Commission – as at least two Republican candidates did during the 5th Congressional District primary race earlier this summer – to force the ad off the air.

Morse campaign manager Kjersten Forseth said she initially plans to contact the radio stations. “Our interest is to get the false information off the air, first and foremost.” Forseth said. She is also considering filing a complaint with the DA’s office. “[Trailhead] knowingly did this,” she says.

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Cara Degette

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