As Colorado Springs' city election enters its final three weeks, an opposition researcher in Washington, D.C., has surfaced and money is flowing into television ads via a political group that doesn't reveal its donors.
In early February, Naji Filali with Percipient Strategies submitted an open-records request to the city seeking records of the ethics complaint against Councilor Helen Collins that triggered a censure of Collins last year.
The ethics complaint, filed by City Attorney Wynetta Massey, noted that Collins participated in a land transaction in which anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce transferred ownership of a condominium owned by his late mother to Collins before Collins then transferred it to a buyer in 2014.
The complaint was the focal point of a 2015 recall attempt of Collins, headed by Deborah Hendrix, who now is running against Collins in southeast District 4. Collins survived the recall.
Filali also made two records requests regarding Jill Gaebler, who represents the centrally located District 5. One sought Gaebler's travel and office expenses during her first term. The other asked for applications and development proposals submitted to the city by Greccio Housing; complaints submitted and fines levied against the nonprofit; and correspondence between the city and Gaebler, who was Greccio's development director prior to taking Council office in April 2013. Gaebler tells the Independent there were no records responsive to the second request.
According to his firm's website, Filali's background includes management of data mining platforms and work as an opposition researcher at the Republican National Committee and America Rising, an anti-Democrat political action committee. Filali didn't respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
Collins faces Hendrix and Yolanda Avila; Gaebler is opposed by Lynette Crow-Iverson.
Hendrix and Crow-Iverson — well funded by developers and business people — have hired political operative Sarah Jack to handle their campaigns. Jack reports via email she's "never heard" of Filali and his firm.
Colorado Citizens Protecting Our Constitution's independent expenditure committee has invested in TV time for Crow-Iverson and promised it's "the first part of a broader voter contact program CCPOC IEC will be undertaking in various city council races this spring."
The PAC's local efforts are run by Dede Laugesen, wife of the Gazette's editorial page editor, Wayne Laugesen, via her Windhover Media firm. CCPOC is based in Greenwood Village and says it educates people on constitutional issues, notably the Second Amendment.
Dede Laugesen says via email the ads were placed with Comcast, though the Indy couldn't find documentation as yet. Broadcast media must disclose ad buys for political candidates and issues in a "public file" open to citizens.
She also says that CCPOC will file a campaign finance report, the next of which is due March 15, but its tax status doesn't require it to divulge names of donors.
The 30-second spots, Laugesen's news release says, includes an endorsement from newly elected Republican El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller, who formerly served in the Colorado House. The ads label Gaebler as "liberal," though the Air Force veteran is a life-long registered Republican.
The April 4 all-mail, non-partisan election will seat six district members who represent two-thirds of the nine-member Council.
In other races, District 1's incumbent Don Knight is being challenged by Greg Basham; District 2 candidate David Geislinger has no opponent; District 3's race pits political newcomer Chuck Fowler against former councilor and vice mayor Richard Skorman; District 6's incumbent Andy Pico is being opposed by Melanie Bernhardt, Robert Burns and former state legislator Janak Joshi.