Morse Ads Spark Criminal Inquiry

One Colorado Springs radio station has yanked a Trailhead Group-sponsored ad and the 4th Judicial District Attorney is investigating whether the Denver-based 527 organization has broken state law that prohibits false statements about political candidates.

As Colorado Confidential reported last week, the ads accuse Democrat John Morse of being incompetent and specifically, misstates the outcome of a criminal case that occurred while he was Chief of Police of Fountain. The ads have appeared on several Colorado Springs radio stations, as well as four-page glossy mailers sent to potential voters in state senate District 11, where Morse is running against Republican incumbent Ed Jones on one of the top targeted legislative races for both political parties in Colorado.

Morse expected to be attacked though previously said he had no idea what sort of disingenuous things about his past would appear. The Trailhead Group, founded by Gov. Bill Owens, beer magnate Pete Coors and oilman Bruce Benson, is continuing to attack Morse in radio ads airing on KVOR, a talk radio station, and KSPZ, an oldies station, said Morse’s campaign manager Kjersten Forseth. Another station, The Eagle, has pulled the ads, as has a cable station. The ads were pulled after the campaign’s attorney sent a cease and desist letter to the station managers.

“We filed a complaint with the DA, and they said they would look into an investigation and would get back to us,”  Forseth said.

According to State law, C.R.S. 1-13-109(2)(a) it is 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.”

The law was passed last year, and several Colorado District Attorneys are currently looking into the possibility of criminal prosecutions over false ads and mailers during this election cycle, including in Pueblo. John Newsome, the DA for the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, says that filing a complaint with his office is just one option that political campaigns have when they suspect that they have been falsely maligned. They can also complain to the Federal Communications Commission or appeal directly to the stations to remove misleading ads, he said.

A Class 2 misdemeanor carries penalties of up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines.

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