Campaign financeElection 2018GovernorNews

Polis, Kennedy complain to state Democrats about dirty campaigning

Author: Joey Bunch and Ernest Luning - June 6, 2018 - Updated: June 8, 2018

Cary Kennedy Jared PolisFrom left: Colorado gubernatorial candidates U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and Cary Kennedy (The Gazette/Colorado Politics file photos)

The gubernatorial campaigns of Cary Kennedy and Jared Polis have filed complaints with the state Democratic Party alleging the other violated the Clean Campaign Promise, signed last year by all the candidates.

Polis’ complaint Wednesday evening came after Kennedy filed one that morning — and just a few hours after Kennedy’s camp sent an email trying to raise money off of a Polis ad attacking Kennedy.

“It’s a shame that Jared would take the campaign in this direction, instead of focusing on the issues that matter to Colorado families,” Kennedy’s campaign said in a mass fundraising email Wednesday afternoon.

“Cary said she would run a clean campaign,” says an unidentified Polis supporter in a TV ad his campaign began airing Wednesday. “But she broke her word,” added another.

The Kennedy campaign pointed to the Polis ad in a formal complaint to the state party, which encouraged candidates to sign a pledge swearing off negative campaigning against fellow Democrats.

“This is a personal attack and is full of false statements,” wrote Serena Woods, Kennedy’s deputy campaign manager. “We expect the party to take action.”

Polis’ camp said the ad was only pushing back on attacks first aired last week in a TV ad put out — with a $1.4 million media buy — by the super PAC called Teachers for Kennedy. That ad questioned the devotion of Polis and fellow Democratic candidate Mike Johnston to “progressive values” when it comes to public education policy.

Kennedy has distanced herself from the ad but refused to ask its sponsors to take it down, saying she can’t legally coordinate with the independent expenditure committee that produced it.

Polis campaign chairwoman Lisa Kaufmann addressed an official complaint to the state party chair Morgan Carroll Wednesday evening.

“Cary Kennedy has repeatedly stated she had nothing to do with the false, negative attack against Jared created by her PAC,” the letter states. Kaufmann calls Kennedy’s claim “at best, deceptive,” and points to a link labeled “Media Resources” on Kennedy’s campaign site.

That link takes viewers to a page displaying “B-roll” footage — media jargon for supplemental, “background” video used in news and promotional packages — as well as still photos and talking points for Kennedy’s supporters to use. The independent expenditure committee supporting Kennedy has incorporated much of the material in its ads.

“These materials are commonly referred to as a ‘Redbox’ and are used as a legally permissible way for campaigns to signal to outside groups what messaging to use,” Kaufmann’s letter says. “Currently, this page includes a section entitled ‘Cary’s Message,’ which features more false attacks against Jared’s consistent record of supporting public education.”

Kaufmann notes that the pledge calls on campaigns to encourage supporters not to go negative.

“Instead, Kennedy defended the ad in two separate candidate debates, and in fact encouraged the spread of false, negative attacks against Jared Polis through the ‘Redbox’ on her website,” Kaufmann says. “She also tried to claim that campaign finance laws prohibited her from denouncing the ad — a patently false claim, as demonstrated by 9News’ extensive analysis of it this evening.”

In her email, Kaufmann linked to a 9News story that found Kennedy would be free to criticize the ad or ask the PAC to pull it from the airwaves.

“Now that Cary Kennedy has chosen to take the race in a negative direction, we have no choice but to defend Jared Polis’ strong, progressive record,” Kaufmann writes.

A spokesman for the state Democrats said late Wednesday that the party had received the complaints.

“We will thoroughly review all complaints and evidence submitted before making a statement,” Eric Walker, the party’s communications director, told Colorado Politics.

A spokesman for Johnston said his campaign has urged Kennedy to live by the clean campaign pledge but hasn’t filed any kind of complaint over it.

Joey Bunch and Ernest Luning