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Joshi campaign flinches, admits role in orchestrating attack mailer

Written By: Colorado Government Watch

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June 14, 2016

Joshi campaign flinches, admits role in orchestrating attack mailer

Faced with a possible complaint to the secretary of state, Colorado Springs state Rep. Janak Joshi’s campaign chief has admitted his camp was behind a controversial attack mailer that accused Joshi’s GOP primary opponent of cross-dressing.

In response to a letter last week from Colorado Government Watch Executive Director Dede Laugesen, who pressed for answers about the political mailer’s true funding and origins, political consultant Jon Hotaling conceded in an email Sunday it “was paid for by the Joshi campaign.”

Hotaling also contended that he had previously disclosed those ties to the media and had reported the expenditure to the Colorado secretary of state, as required by law. However, the relationship was not disclosed in the mailer itself. Recipients—who were on a list of campaign contributors to Joshi’s rival for the House District 16 seat, former state Rep. Larry Liston—were left to assume the attack on Liston was solely the initiative of the mailer’s nominal author, Colorado Springs state Sen. Kent Lambert.

As it turns out, Lambert appears to have been enlisted by Hotaling and the Joshi camp to sign his name to the missive. Lambert has told Colorado Government Watch he did not write the letter and accompanying “fact sheet” but only edited them.

Joshi himself, meanwhile, has yet to take responsilibity for the mailer or address the controversy surrounding it despite his campaign manager’s admission. The low-profile, third-term lawmaker and former doctor—who surrendered his medical license to state authorities in 2008 for unprofessional conduct—has eluded efforts by Colorado Government Watch to interview him on the matter. He recently refused to speak with a Colorado Government Watch team at his Colorado Springs home and then fled in his car to a law office, where CoGW followed him but was denied entry.

The May 5 attack mailer has drawn media coverage and raised an uproar among fellow El Paso County Republicans. It endorsed and praised Joshi while urging Liston’s campaign donors to ask for their money back.

A “fact sheet” included in the mailer leads with photos of Liston in women’s clothing and refers to him as “cross dressing on the House floor.” The photos in reality depict scenes from an annual spoof staged at the legislature by the minority party in which Liston and others jokingly had portrayed members of the majority—a fact not mentioned in the mailer. The parody is a tradition in the General Assembly, and members are expected to respect a long-standing agreement not to misuse the event for political purposes.

In her letter last Friday to Joshi and Hotaling, Laugesen warned of the consequences if no one took responsibility for the mailer:

If you continue to stonewall our efforts to achieve clarity on this matter, and absent other information, we will be compelled to reassess Sen. Lambert’s claim that he did not arrange for or pay for the mailer. Accordingly, we will consider filing a complaint with the Colorado secretary of state asking that office to look into whether Sen. Lambert’s effort amounted to a non-monetary contribution to your campaign.

As you know, such a contribution would have to be reported by your campaign in its periodic disclosure statements to the Secretary of State’s Office. We could find no evidence such a contribution was reported by your campaign; failure to report it would be a violation of campaign finance law. In that case, we would seek appropriate sanctions.

The Joshi campaign’s orchestration of the mailer is not apparent from its campaign-finance reports on file with the secretary of state. As Hotaling himself acknowledged in his Sunday email, the expenditure for the mailer had been reported “as one of many ‘Advertising’ expenses incurred by the campaign.” In other words, a member of the public would not have been able to identify it by searching those records online.

Hotaling’s Sunday email to Colorado Government Watch also was addressed to numerous staff members of The Colorado Springs Gazette, and he lashes out at the newspaper as well as at Laugesen, accusing the two organizations of working together to distort his campaign’s mailer for political purposes.

Laugesen dismissed Hotaling’s allegations.

“Evidently, we hit a nerve, so perhaps he now feels a need to attack the messenger,” Laugesen said.

“As we have made clear many times, Colorado Government Watch has no connection to The Gazette or to either campaign in the House District 16 race,” she said.

Colorado Government Watch is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical, nonprofit accountability watchdog that takes no stand on the House District 16 primary race. It does not endorse or oppose candidates and has no stake in the election’s outcome. Consistent with its mission, its concern in this case is with ethics and public accountability in the election process and the degree to which smear campaigns that distort facts and use other deceptive tactics serve to undermine public confidence in elections and elected officicals.

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