Colorado state Senate candidate Rachel Zenzinger is once again in the peculiar position of having to insist that she has never been to China.
Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, a conservative political group, is under fire for spreading untrue messages about Zenzinger traveling to China with taxpayer money. Both Zenzinger’s campaign and the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund have filed criminal complaints to Jefferson County District Attorney Pete Weir that CCAG has printed the debunked claim in mailers, which dropped in Zenzinger’s district over the weekend.
The messages are attached to packages of fortune cookies, which are intended to “commemorate” Zenzinger’s fallacious trip to China.
The same group has used the tactic before. In the 2014 midterm elections, it ran a similar television advertisement called “China Girl” that made the same assertion — that Zenzinger used taxpayer money to fund a “junket” to China. In June, they were at again, sending out mailers with a photoshopped image of Zenzinger with dollar signs over her eyes and an ornamental Asian bridge in the background.
This is, however, the first time that Zenzinger has filed a criminal complaint about the communications. She said that this time, the group had crossed a line by suggesting that Zenzinger herself went to China. “I’ve never been to China,” Zenzinger said, sounding tired of saying it.
In 2013, while serving on Arvada’s city council, Zenzinger voted to approve the formation of a delegation to visit a Chinese sister city, Jinzhou. Local nonprofit Arvada Sister Cities International was lobbying for the council’s permission to represent the city. The motion failed, in part because of concerns about misusing taxpayer funds. To pacify those concerns, Zenzinger proposed a successful motion prohibiting the use of any public dollars in any trip to Jinzhou, even if a city official was on the trip.
“At no point was anyone going to be using taxpayer funds,” Zenzinger said.
No city officials or citizens ended up going to Jinzhou because Arvada Sister Cities International was not able to generate enough money.
The Jefferson County District Attorney’s office is referring the issue to the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, a consortium of DAs across the state that collaborates on trainings and legislative issues that concern criminal justice. Because partisanship could potentially influence this particular issue (Jefferson County DA Pete Weir is a Republican and Zenzinger is a Democrat), a bipartisan committee from the council will make recommendations about whether to pursue an investigation. Those recommendations are expected to come out in the next few days.
The Zenzinger campaign’s press release points out that a Colorado statute, 1-13-109, prohibits knowingly spreading false information in election materials. The penalty is a class one misdemeanor.
As a tax-deductible 527 political group, Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government is not allowed to tell voters whom to vote for. It can only engage in “voter education,” the umbrella under which it sent the fortune cookies.
Zenzinger doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the group is pushing the mailers in a year when a major party presidential candidate has repeatedly claimed that China is the sole impediment to American global hegemony.
“If I went to China right now, why would that be a bad thing?” she asked. “It’s just an easy thing to demonize right now.”
She further said the group is trying undermine her in any way possible.
“They’re repeating the lie over and over again so that maybe people will say, well, maybe it’s true,” Zenzinger said.
Photo Credit: Still from 2014 ‘China Girl’ advertisement