‘Tasteless’ campaign mailers flying fast and furious from Aspen to Adams Co.

The executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters has two words for a new mailer that features the face of state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, superimposed over the body of Donald Trump: “poor taste.”

“It is an obvious leading candidate for the most tasteless piece of mail so far in the 2010 election cycle,” CCV’s Pete Maysmith said Thursday. “It’s over the top and in poor taste.”

Western Tradition Partnership is responsible for the mailer, which, along with the Schwartz-Trump hybrid image, tells recipients in state Senate District 5: “Gail Schwartz has two words for you … YOU’RE FIRED!”

The conservative lobbying group, which is “dedicated to fighting environmental extremism,” targets the Democrat for her co-sponsorship this year of a bill, backed by Xcel Energy, that raised Colorado’s renewable energy standard to the second highest in the nation, behind only California. The group said that raising renewable energy requirements to 30 percent by 2020 will trigger job losses and increase Coloradans’ utility bills.

“The renewable energy standard forces utility companies to buy more expensive utilities, so then they have to cut back on hiring and lay people off,” said Western Tradition’s Donald Ferguson.

But Maysmith points to research that estimates the higher renewable energy standard could generate more than 23,000 jobs in the state’s solar industry alone over the next 10 years. He noted that he has “not seen one iota of evidence” that Schwartz will be eliminating more jobs than she creates.

“There are a lot of think tanks studying this,” Ferguson responded when asked how Western Tradition can say the renewable energy standard kills more jobs than it creates when studies like “Investing in the Sun,” compiled by environmental groups, provide data to the contrary.

Western Tradition’s mailer states that “green energy destroys 2.2 jobs for every job [Schwartz] claims [House Bill 1001] creates,” but Ferguson said that figure is not based on any local research; rather he said it was extrapolated from a similar renewable energy program in Spain.

In an e-mail to the Denver Daily News, Schwartz wrote that she was “deeply disgusted by the thuggish and deceptive mailing that has polluted the mailboxes of Senate District 5 voters.” She also noted that the Western Tradition Partnership, including Ferguson, is largely comprised of out-of-staters.

However, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, the nonprofit was originally registered in Colorado in 2008 by Republican operative Scott Shires of Aurora, who has set up dozens of 501(c)4 and 527 nonprofit political groups.

Western Tradition and Shires’ Colorado League of Taxpayers were both active in the contentious 2008 Garfield County commissioners race in which outside money poured in from the oil and gas industry and environmental groups. The two defeated Democrats complained bitterly about last-minute attack ads, mailers and fake newspapers.

Joyce Rankin, the campaign manager and wife of Schwartz’s opponent, Bob Rankin of Aspen, said she was unaware of the Western Tradition Partnership mailing. She said her husband’s Republican campaign will begin sending out its own mailers in the district, but “they’ll be positive and stick to the issues.”

Colorado’s political landscape is rife with mailers espousing “believe-it-or-not gems,” as the Denver Post put it Wednesday. The newspaper focused on Kathleen Curry, the state representative for Aspen’s House District 61 who broke ranks with Democrats last year and became an independent by her own choosing. Recent mailers insinuate the Democrats rejected her, which Curry told the Post was “almost laughable.”

On the other side of the political aisle, District 18 hopeful Karen Cullen is so outraged by an Accountability for Colorado mailer that allegedly misattributed information that she is asking the district attorney to investigate, according to a report this week in the Colorado Springs Gazette. And Republican House candidate Tom Janich has reported what he says are misleading campaign fliers about his past criminal record to the Adams County district attorney, according to the Post.

But it can be difficult for DAs to track down anonymous mailers or prove groups knowingly used false statements in campaign ads, which was criminalized in Colorado in 2005. In a 2006 Eagle County commissioners race, Democrat Sara Fisher, who’s running for re-election this year, was the target of an anonymous mailer that Republican District Attorney Mark Hurlbert called the dirtiest he’d ever seen. He was unable to trace the mailer, but Fisher wound up winning anyway.

Misleading or not, it’s not entirely clear how effective campaign mailers are in the first place.
“I think on some level people tune them out,” Maysmith said. “Still, when they’re that over-the-top, like the Donald Trump thing, they’re designed to catch people’s attention and they probably do catch their attention. Catching people’s attention is fine. But when it’s tasteless and wrong, that’s not fine.”

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About the Author

Troy Hooper

Troy Hooper covers environmental policy for the American Independent News Network. His work has been published in The Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Huffington Post, San Francisco Weekly, Playboy, New York Post, People and dozens of other publications. Hooper has covered the Winter Olympics in Italy, an extreme ski camp in South America and gone behind the scenes with Hunter S. Thompson on election night in 2004. Born and raised in Boulder, Hooper has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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