Postcards from the Colorado Republican Committee criticizing Republican Cory Gardner’s opponent, John Hickenlooper (D), and his record of pardons and commutations as governor, are causing some controversy. The postcards feature photos of local pastor Promise Lee and four other men and reads, “John Hickenlooper failed. Putting dangerous convicts back on the street,” and “victims include: Soldiers, ministers, coworkers, a mother,” and the back features a contemporary photo of Lee with the caption, “killed 20-year-old Army Soldier.”
Lee’s criminal history is no secret. In 1975, at the age of 16, he killed Daniel Hocking during a drug deal and served four years in prison. Lee, a devout Christian, has served as the pastor of Relevant Word Ministries. Since leaving prison, Lee has served as a community organizer and a youth mentor in Colorado Springs. As president of the Hillside Neighborhood Association, Lee helped the Hillside neighborhood earn the prestigious All-American City Award by the National Civic League in 1997, and Lee received the award from then-Vice President Al Gore. Lee was pardoned by then-Governor Hickenlooper in 2018.
In February 2020, Lee organized the Law Enforcement Accountability Project, pushing for the establishment of a civilian law enforcement oversight body in Colorado Springs following the death of De’Von Bailey in August 2019. Lee organized community members and travelled to Austin in March to attend the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement Symposium. Lee’s work laid the groundwork for the city’s current Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission.
A statement from Lee, published by Denver Westword, reads, “Understandably, bashing an opponent is part of the race, but Mr. Gardner has included pictures of people with whom he is unacquainted. He does not comprehend the extent of communal reach and has assumed, unjustly, a political allegiance. This reflects poor ethos. The picture of me and the others lack context. And ironically, showcasing me in the center might acknowledge that reform actually works. However I doubt that this was Mr. Gardner's intention.”
The Colorado GOP has not responded to the Indy’s request for comment. Daniel Cole, a former Colorado GOP spokesperson and current Republican strategist, said in a Facebook post, "This is egregious, and I told the party what I think of it."
The photo of Lee used in the postcards came from the Colorado Springs Independent's wesbsite. Publisher Amy Gillentine-Sweet released the following statement:
"The Colorado Republican Party violated federal copyright law by illegally reprinting and distributing a photo that appeared on the Colorado Springs Independent website, according to the newspaper and the photographer.
The Independent, which owns rights to the picture, along with Snowshoe Studio’s Casey Bradley Gent, says the Colorado GOP never sought permission to reprint the photograph.
'The Indy has three demands for GOP Chairman Ken Buck,' says John Weiss, chairman of the newspaper group that publishes the Indy and six other newsweeklies in the Pikes Peak region. 'First, that Buck publicly apologize for stealing our intellectual property. Second, that while Buck is chair of the Colorado GOP, they agree not to use any copyrighted photographs without written permission. And lastly, that the state GOP pay Snowshoe Studios and the Independent $199 each for the illegal use of our material.'
The photo appeared in a Republican Party mailer sent to Colorado residents this week promoting the re-election of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. It was a 2018 photo of Rev. Promise Lee, taken as part of an Indy story about his quest for a pardon from then-Gov. John Hickenlooper.
'Using the creative products of people who make their living through writing and photography without permission is akin to breaking into a store and taking what you please,” said Amy Gillentine, publisher and executive editor of the Indy. 'This theft of material devalues professionals and undermines their hard work — particularly during the pandemic, when so much of that work has disappeared.' '
The Indy website (csindy.com) is copyrighted, and the newspaper paid Gent for her photo.
Gent added, 'I have freelanced for the Indy for the past 13 years. As a freelance photojournalist and small business owner, I need the Colorado Republican Party to pay me for my work. I will be sending Ken Buck an invoice for $199.
'Personal property rights are sacrosanct,' Gillentine said. 'We’re asking the Colorado Republican Party to step up and do the right thing. Pay the photographer for her work, and do not consider the work of others as something to be purloined for their own use.'"