South Jeffcoresidents living in state Senate District 22 are being flooded with expensive color mailers with negative messages from obscure sources targeting both candidates, Andy Kerr and Ken Summers.
One district resident said she had received two or three a day for the last couple of weeks. An average of four out of five of the mailers targeted Andy Kerr, a Democrat from Lakewood.
Kerr and Summers, a Republican, are in a tight race for the open Senate seat in the newly redrawn Senate district, which contains an equal number of independents, Republicans and Democrats.
The anti-Kerr mailings come from Independent Expenditure Committees, also known as super PACs, or 527s.
These entities are becoming an increasingly common feature of the election season, as documented by Rob Witwer and Adam Schrager in their book, “The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado.” Witwer was the state representative from HD 25 until he resigned in 2008 and became campaign manager for his successor, Cheri Gerou.
According to a Denver Post survey, super PACS have spent $166,422 on the SD 22 race so far, which makes it sixth on the list of races in which super PACs are involved.
“Outside groups have been spending huge amounts of money to influence state legislative races since 2004,” said Witwer, a Columbine Courier columnist who lives in the Evergreen area.
That was the first election cycle after Colorado voters passed the campaign-reform measure Amendment 27, which actually “opened the floodgates for subsequent waves of unaccountable, untraceable outside cash,” Witwer said in an e-mail Oct. 24.
Witwer was one of the first to point out that this money has become a “dominant factor in targeted state legislative races.”
“When voters hear messages about candidates, they aren’t coming from the candidates themselves, or even from the parties. Those messages are coming directly from generic-named groups with hidden agendas,” Witwer said.
That may be, but do people actually believe what they are reading in them?
“Unfortunately,” Witwer said, “negative campaigning seems to work. Otherwise political strategists wouldn’t do it. If citizens want to stop negative campaigning, they should stop letting it influence their votes.
“Outside groups tend to be more negative and loose with the truth than candidates, who can be made accountable for crossing certain lines,” Witwer said.
In one example, Kerr was the target of three separate negative mailings attributed to Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, which doesn’t even have a website. He was also targeted with a mailing from “the Colorado Republican Committee,” with an address in Greenwood Village.
Summers received one negative mailing from a group called “Coalition for Colorado’s Future, not authorized by any candidate,” based in Denver.
“All I know is people say they receive two or three different ones a day,” Kerr said. “We have dozens of different ones.
“I know part of the reason they are doing this is to discourage them from voting at all. If more of my supporters don’t vote, then more of their supporters will have voted. Not voting benefits them. You are losing a few votes, but you are driving more of your opponents not to vote.
“I’ve talked to plenty of people who say, ‘Look, there’s so much stuff, I throw it in the garbage,’ ” Kerr said.
Kerr is shocked at how much super PAC mail is out there.
“I have never seen so much. This race is so highly targeted compared to my other races … . I’m just focusing on getting my message out there,” Kerr said.
The mailings are not harmless, Kerr said.
“Absolutely (they hurt). People say they heard this about you, and some people actually read them.”
Ironically, one group is actually helping him by publicizing Kerr’s positions.
“A Colorado Springs group is spending a lot of money to accuse me of being pro-choice and supporting civil unions — both of which are absolutely true.”
He does not blame the Summers campaign for any of the negative mailings. “Neither campaign is putting out anything negative,” Kerr said.
Summers described the mailings as “just over the top. They try to confuse seniors by tying me as a candidate to federal issues by saying, ‘Ken Summers wants to do away with Medicare and charge you $6,400 a year.’ ”
They took a statement by Summers saying, “We need leaders with a plan that would work,” and turned it into, “Ken Summers said (Paul) Ryan’s radical Medicare plan will work.”
“I think it’s despicable. It’s not only a distortion, but it’s an outright deception,” Summers said. “I consider it elder abuse. My mother is 86 years old. When she sees things like that, she can’t sort the truth from fiction.”
Summers said he is being unfairly targeted for extreme views, and it is costing him votes.
“People who know me understand it for what it is. But I ran into somebody in the South Jeffco area who said, ‘My wife is threatening to leave me because she thinks you are so extreme.’ ”
Summers said he supports abortion rights except in cases of rape or incest. “That’s not an issue in this election. There is nothing at risk. Abortion is legal, and it will continue to be.”
He is not interested in making abortion illegal. Summers thinks women are more concerned about taking care of the children they have and meeting their family needs.
“If it comes down to an emergency need, all the options are available and will continue to be so,” Summers said.
What are 527s?
527s cannot contribute directly to candidates. They influence elections by running TV or radio ads, sending direct mail to voters, canvassing, and other election-related activities designed to benefit one candidate or hurt another. The IRS website gives some information about the activities of 527s, but it’s surprisingly hard to find. Though 527s theoretically are transparent, in reality their activities remain hidden to most voters.
Is a super PAC the same as a 527?
“This is a confusing term, because different people mean different things when thy use the term ‘Super PAC,” said former state representative Rob Witwer. “At the state level, we’re basically talking about ‘soft-money’ or ‘outside’ groups that spend money to influence elections. By that I mean groups that aren’t affiliated with either candidates or political parties. These groups can be 501(c)4s, 527s or non-exempt organizations under federal law. Whatever you call them, they all have the same purpose: to funnel huge amounts of money into elections, often invisibly.”