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"Mad as hell' 

Rep. Merrifield rips GOP group for telemarketing campaign that aims to cast doubt on ethics

State Rep. Michael Merrifield is demanding that criminal charges be filed against the masterminds of a telemarketing campaign accusing him and other Democrats of maintaining a political slush fund brimming with "secret payments" from a nefarious group.

"They are spreading lies about me," says Merrifield, of Manitou Springs. "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."

Merrifield has joined the Colorado Democratic Party in asking Attorney General John Suthers and local District Attorney John Newsome to investigate the automated calls sponsored by the TrailHead Group, which is backed by conservative Republicans like Golden beer mogul Pete Coors and Denver oil baron Bruce Benson.

The phone calls to Merrifield's constituents question the $11,167 in mailings that a mysterious organization known only as "Research and Democracy" sent last year to benefit Merrifield.

"Never before have Colorado legislators taken payments from contributors or lobbyists whose names are supposed to be disclosed, and worked so hard to keep them secret," states a TrailHead phone script obtained by the Independent.

Merrifield says he had not heard of Research and Democracy until the group sent him an unsigned letter informing him that mailings were sent out on his behalf to tout his leadership.

"I didn't send the mailing," says Merrifield. "I didn't see it beforehand. I still don't know who sent it."

He disclosed the mailings as a "gift" in January on annual forms filed with the Colorado secretary of state, in an effort to be open about the contribution.

Of the nine other Democrats to whom the group made 2005 in-kind contributions of an aggregate $83,000-plus, several were similarly targeted by TrailHead.

Pat Waak, chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party, views TrailHead's phone calls as a violation of the recently enacted truth-in-campaigning law. She says she sent Suthers a script on behalf of Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada, and would send several more this week.

Kristen Hubbell, a spokeswoman for Suthers, says the attorney general "would be happy to look at anything with specific allegations," if provided.

Alan Philp, executive director of TrailHead, stands behind the content of the scripts.

"It defies credibility, that they have secret admirers," he says.

The TrailHead Group is a "527" committee, so named for its designation as a nonprofit under the federal tax code. Such groups often fund attack ads during elections, and can spend unlimited amounts of money, skirting Colorado's limits on campaign spending without having to disclose financial activities until after the November elections.

Research and Democracy appears to be using a legal loophole to obscure its donors. Its in-kind donations were made public only when Democrats disclosed them.

deyoanna@csindy.com

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