AURORA | Attack ads and campaign literature have hit mailboxes full force across Aurora this election season, some funded with dark money and others from completely unregistered groups, prompting concern from elected officials and campaigners alike.
One door-hanger apparently paid for by a group called, “Better Jobs Coalition,” tells voters they shouldn’t “let liberals hijack Aurora City Council.”
“A liberal front group called Emerge is quietly working to stack city council,” the mailer says. “Aurora is the tip of the spear…Emerge backed liberals, helped drive the mob that desecrated the American flag. Now they want control of Aurora’s City Hall.”
The flurry of attack ads comes after a last-minute infusion of dark money in the Aurora races.
Emerge Colorado trains women Democrats to run for office at all levels of government. Three current city councilwomen — Crystal Murillo, Allison Hiltz and Nicole Johnston — graduated the program and were elected in 2017. Their history with Emerge has become a political sticking point on and off the dais, most notably when fellow councilman Dave Gruber charged the trio with helping plan a controversial protest at the GEO Group Inc. detention center.
The three attended the protest, which resulted in some of the protestors desecrating the flag, but they were not involved in those actions. They denounced the desecration after the protest.
The other side of the ad endorses five candidates: at-large candidates Johnny Watson and Curtis Gardner, Ward VI candidate Francoise Bergan, Ward V candidate Bob Roth and Ward IV candidate Charlie Richardson.
Better Jobs Coalition, which identifies itself as an independent expenditure committee, isn’t a registered IEC with the city, according to city clerk Steve Ruger. Groups spending more than $1,000 on elections in Aurora are required to register.
At the state level, Better Jobs Coalition is registered by Rick Enstrom, a conservative political activist. He was not immediately available for comment as of this publishing.
Emerge Colorado Executive Director Michal Rosenoer said in an email to supporters Thursday the attacks like the one in the mailer are why the Emerge organization exists.
“…With more women running and winning, we have seen increasing amounts of vitriol from those who think our alumnae need to wait their turn, ask permission, or should just stay home,” she said. “But we won’t back down. This kind of sexism is exactly why Emerge exists.”
Rosenoer told the Sentinel the organization is considering some type of legal action.
“We are being attacked for training moms, teachers, and working women to step up to represent their communities,” she said. “That doesn’t sit well with some, so they are turning to political smears and potentially libel to try to undercut our alumnae.”
The attacks haven’t set well with councilwoman Nicole Johnston either. She’s focused some of her local legislative efforts on campaign finance reform, advocating for more transparency. She said she’d like to further address IECs and dark money.
“Excessive amounts of dark money have been contributed to the city council race. With a mere $50 fine for violating campaign rules on IECs, libelous attacks are made freely without any worry of consequences,” Johnston said in a statement. “I would hope the current council members and candidates who are supported by these IECs denounce it. This isn’t the right way to win.”
Other attack literature has come from a group called One Aurora, which raised $85,000 from a group called Citizens for a Sound Government, which promotes “policies that create a strong environment for job creation, enhance personal freedom, and generate fiscal responsibility.”
Literature paid for by that group have targeted at-large candidates Leanne Wheeler and incumbent Angela Lawson and Ward V candidate Alison Coombs.
Another unregistered group, Prosperity Through Property Rights, is advocating for either Ryan Frazier or Mike Coffman for mayor. That mailer puts a red “x” through candidate Omar Montgomery.
Montgomery is not part of Emerge, but he enjoys the support of Emerge candidates and is the only registered Democrat among mayoral candidates.
Mayoral candidate Marsha Berzins has gone straight for Coffman in her mailers. The literature, which features a photo of President Donald Trump and Mike Coffman, says “When leftwing radicals attacked our president Mike Coffman turned his back! Then he lost.”
The piece quotes Trump as saying “Too bad, Mike!” which he said after it became clear Coffman lost his congressional seat to a Democrat last year.
Coffman and Berzins are both registered Republicans. Frazier is unaffiliated, having dropped his long-time GOP allegiance earlier this year as he got into the race in earnest.
Coffman has also been the target of pro-gun control money. Giffords, a group formed by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, launched a $50,000 digital campaign in support of Montgomery.
The television ad calls Coffman the “NRA’s yes man.”
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