Update 2:00 p.m. Wednesday — Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Coffman, a military veteran who represents the state’s 6th District west of Denver, appears to have taken down reelection-campaign Google ads that raised a storm this week among Democrats. They accused him of exploiting concerns about the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs administration to raise campaign money.
The Coffman ads for a “Let’s Hold the VA Accountable” website popped up this week at the top of Google searches of the congressman’s name, as Buzzfeed first reported Tuesday. Under a campaign banner that reads “Mike Coffman for Congress,” the site laments the often-shoddy care the VA has delivered to veterans and the cost-overruns that have plagued construction of a new hospital facility in Coffman’s 6th District.
“Will you stand with me to hold the VA accountable to [sic] its vast mismanagement and disservice to our veterans?” reads the site. It asks readers concerned with the failures of the VA to fill in their contact information and to share the page with friends, both typical fundraising strategies. In the original version of the ad, according to Democratic sources and based on BuzzFeed reporting, clicking on a button that said “Hold the VA Accountable” at the Coffman website previously sent readers to a Coffman campaign donate page with amounts up to $2,600 to select. That link to the donate page had been deactivated on Wednesday.
Coffman served as a Marine in both Iraq wars, and he has been a congressional leader in calling attention to the failings of the Veterans Affairs administration. He was lauded for that work in an October Denver Post op-ed by Amanda Moore that he posted at his website just weeks before winning reelection in his swing district.
“[Coffman’s] peers and coworkers in Washington could take a page from his book. Since the VA scandal became the story of the summer, many politicians have done little more than issue press releases, make a few television appearances, and then use that material in their next fundraising email,” wrote Moore.
“Mike Coffman… has been praised in near-universal, bipartisan fashion for his record of leadership on veteran’s issues,” said Coffman spokesman Tyler Sandberg.
“Of course the left wing flacks over on Maryland Avenue who are pitching this story don’t want Mike to talk about his leadership on the campaign trail,” Sandberg told BuzzFeed.
He also said the Coffman VA page is a list-building petition that simply asks people to get involved on the issue, not a fundraising page. He told The Denver Post that all petition pages set up through Coffman’s campaign account automatically link to fundraising pages.
What traction the Google-ads story has gained may partly be tied to the fact Coffman has tread a line in the past between disapproving of attempts to marry politics and military service and doing just that himself.
In his reelection campaign last year, Coffman sent out material touting his military service. A four-page mailer sent out by his campaign was covered in photos of Coffman in uniform and never mentioned that he had retired from the Marines. It was a clear violation of the Defense Department Directives that govern how soldiers and veterans participate in electoral politics. Indeed, Coffman had two years earlier railed against Army Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, who wore his uniform while speaking at a Ron Paul campaign rally.
Coffman at the time wrote a blistering letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, saying Thorsen’s behavior represented a “grave failure in leadership.”
Sandberg last year dismissed reports on the mailer as “nitpicking and ankle biting.”
“Sleazy attacks don’t work on Mike Coffman, people,” he told BuzzFeed this week. “They just don’t.”
Sandberg didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.
A web search from Tuesday:
And from Wednesday:
The site and the originally linked campaign donate page, via BuzzFeed: