'Because of Pete Lee's vote, someone's loved one is more likely to be killed this weekend on our highways."
So reads the grim political mailer sent to Colorado House District 18. Accompanying this statement are pictures of two upended cars, supposedly driven by drug-addled drivers.
If you live in HD 17 or 18, El Paso County's two competitive state House districts, you've likely been inundated by similar messages. And if you've glanced them over before throwing them away, you've been treated to some far-fetched claims.
As Election Day approaches, a number of political committees are throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars behind their attack campaigns. At stake, they believe, is control of the state House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a one-seat advantage.
Here's a look at two of the most vociferous political groups playing ball: Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government and the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance Independent Expenditure Committee.
Seizing on the record ...
Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government is a registered 527 political organization that's raised $550,000 and spent $470,000 this election season. The vast majority of this money has come from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national 527 based in Washington, D.C.
It's impossible to see exactly how much CCAG has spent on individual races. As Luis Toro with nonprofit watchdog Colorado Ethics Watch points out, 527s are spared many disclosure requirements because they're limited in what they can say. They can't urge, for example, that you vote for a specific candidate.
Instead, a group like CCAG will just say that in HD 18, Lee is complicit in "robbing seniors of $716 billion," and pushing to raise property taxes by $46 million.
The property-tax increase that the Democrat "pushed for," Lee himself explains, references a letter to the editor he wrote before he was a legislator, supporting a 2009 city ballot measure. As for "robbing seniors," that recalls his vote against a Republican-sponsored House resolution urging Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"It was purely a partisan political maneuver to get people on the record" on health care, Lee says of the resolution, "so that they could use it in these mailers."
In another mailer from CCAG, Lee's vote against a bill that would institute a legal limit for driving while impaired by marijuana is described as "putting our families' lives in danger."
Lee argues that the bill, as written, set as a delineation of impairment 5 nanograms of THC in a driver's system. And yet "there was a guy who was tested who had 24 nanograms in his system, and he wasn't found to be impaired, so the science just isn't there to support it."
In fact, that's what's ultimately killed the bill — drawing even some Republican dissent — for two years running.
... or whatever's around
On the other side in the HD 18 race is the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance Independent Expenditure Committee, which is firing away at Republican Jennifer George. It's funded solely by the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance, which receives donations from large corporations such as Wal-Mart and Xcel Energy, as well as from state and national unions and other political committees.
As an independent expenditure committee, it enjoys more editorial freedom, but must file more detailed disclosures. So Secretary of State documents reveal that of the $1.2 million it's spent this election season, more than $225,000 has been on El Paso County races.
Bill Roy, COO of the local Republican Party, points out that as a political neophyte, George doesn't have a voting record to attack. With a clean past, too, what Democratic supporters are left with is "Politics 101: Go negative and hope for the best."
One mailer claims George will cut taxes for the super-wealthy. The evidence? She spoke at the rally for Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
Another mailer screams: "We don't need any more TEA PARTY EXTREMISM," claiming that George will cut Medicare, "kill jobs" and "destroy health care."
George points out that as a state legislator, she couldn't do any of those things.
"They assume a lot of ignorance on the part of the voters, and that's why I find them so disturbing," she says of the mailers. "They are intended to cause confusion ... and that's wrong."
It's the same in House District 17, where Democratic challenger Tony Exum has been targeted by Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government for "planning to raise your taxes on gasoline, property, car registration, Social Security and small business," according to Exum's campaign manager, Karen Teja. Meanwhile, Exum's opponent, incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Barker, has seen himself portrayed as hostile to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"It's ludicrous, first, because a state representative doesn't get to change federal law," he says. "But then the other side of it, I have been very vocal about wanting to keep the promises we've made [on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid]."
The attacks appear to draw upon stereotypes, and Barker says they're out of line.
"This just preys on people's fear," he says. "There are enough people out there who are afraid right now, just because of the general tenor of the economy. I think that it is cruel to add more fear to that."