- Lakewood-based designer Deb Culig says she never got paid for these political brochures. So she's suing.
If you are a Republican in El Paso County, you probably read the hit pieces.
The "Dan May for DA" brochure attacking his opponent John Newsome proclaims that while May was sworn in as a prosecutor, Newsome was doing his 7th grade homework.
Then there's the swipe that Linda Stahnke took at her GOP opponent Mark Cloer, in which she claims to be "Our Best Choice" to represent House District 17 in the Colorado House of Representatives. The brochure included a photo of the incumbent Cloer at the state capitol, with his feet up on a desk, ostensibly in an effort to depict him as a slacker.
And there was that catchy "Dennis Hisey for County Commissioner" brochure that identifies him as being "For the People."
In retrospect, that last one really cracked up the woman who designed the brochures, who now says she never got paid for her work.
"That's just a hoot," said Deb Culig, a Lakewood-based designer and small-business owner. Culig designed several brochures for Pearson Communications Group, an Arvada-based company that was contracted by the above-mentioned campaigns to produce brochures, billboards and other materials. After repeated efforts to collect the money owed for her design work -- including contacting several of the candidates personally -- failed, Culig filed a suit in small claims court. In the complaint, she lists Dave Pearson, owner of Pearson Communications Group, along with May and Stahnke, who lost the primary election, and Hisey, who won, as co-defendants. Culig alleges that May owes her $1,952.50, Stahnke $1,561.50 and Hisey $536.25.
"They've authorized the work, seen it, used it, and are not paying for it," Culig said. "I pay my bills, and I want the people who represent me to pay theirs.
"I am so tired of the attitude by some politicians that they are justified to do these things."
Culig is not alone. Marty Soudani, owner of Wizbang Solutions, a Commerce City-based company that printed the brochures, says he has also gotten the shaft. He says that May owes him $2,116.41, Stahnke owes him $2,481.24 and Hisey's outstanding balance is $1,202.50. Soudani just launched his small business on June 14.
"I have no ill will towards anyone; I just want my money," Soudani said. "I'm a small business owner who is fighting to start a new company and the first thing that happens is I get burned for thousands of dollars. It's a terrible way to start a company.
"I did the work, we did a great job, the product came out great, they used it and we did not get paid."
Unlike Culig, Soudani has not filed a lawsuit in an effort to collect. He is waiting to see how Culig's claim plays out. So here's what we've got so far: Culig, who was subcontracting for Pearson, says she tried to get him to pay. Those efforts failed. So she contacted the candidates, who either didn't return her phone calls or informed her "it has been taken care of." Culig's lawyer finally advised her to sue everyone and let the courts sort it out. So she did.
Culig hired the El Paso County Sheriff's Office to serve subpoenas on the three candidates. They reported back to her that their efforts to serve a summons on May, the assistant district attorney and second in command who works less than a block away from the sheriff's headquarters in downtown Colorado Springs, had failed. "They said they couldn't find him," Culig said. The other subpoenas were successfully served.
Culig was subsequently notified that Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs attorney, former head of the local Republican Party and political operative who volunteered on the campaigns of the three candidates, is now representing all three in the lawsuit against them. Gardner has since been granted a request that the matter be transferred out of small claims court to the Jefferson County court, which removes May from this proceeding (Culig will now have to decide whether to sue May separately). An initial hearing has not been scheduled.
May and Stahnke did not return calls seeking comment. Nor did Pearson, who had been hired to produce the brochures. However, in a telephone interview this week, Hisey recalled his version of events. During his primary campaign, Hisey said a "meltdown of sorts" occurred; deadlines were missed and the prices for the brochures came in higher than their initial quotes.
Hisey recalled receiving a phone call from Culig that rankled him. "I got a call from Deb [Culig] and she explained who she was and said if I didn't pay right now she would file suit. I had never gotten an invoice and I don't respond real well to threats; maybe it's a genetic deficiency.
"I do know," Hisey said, "that if this campaign owes anybody money, we will pay it."
Hisey said that Gardner offered to represent him for free. In an interview this week, Gardner declined to discuss the details of the case, other than to note that "none of those campaigns have ever had a contractual agreement with Ms. Culig."
For her part, Culig concedes that she was not hired directly by the campaigns; her agreement was to provide design work for Pearson -- on behalf of May, Stahnke and Hisey. After 27 years working in media graphic designing, Culig says this is the first time she has been so burned.
"They're treating me like I'm the bad guy in all of this," she said. "I'm a small-business person and this is a lot of money for me."