Columns » Public Eye

To catch a thief


This Independent photo of Margaret Radford was illegally - reproduced in a brochure promoting her opponent - Douglas Bruce. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • This Independent photo of Margaret Radford was illegally reproduced in a brochure promoting her opponent Douglas Bruce.

P.T. Barnum said there's a sucker born every minute. For some politicians, that's just not fast enough.

Consider the glossy mailers clogging our mailboxes now that the political season is upon us. They come from groups with catchy names like "Active Citizens Together" and "Colorado Republican Assembly."

Who are these shadow groups and how did they get your name? And why do they -- at least in one case -- apparently think it's OK to steal a photograph from a newspaper in violation of federal copyright laws?

Earlier this month, a group calling itself "Colorado Republican Assembly" -- CORA for short -- sent out a glossy mailer to Republicans who live in the northeastern part of the county. The mailer was a thinly disguised effort to promote county commissioner candidate Douglas Bruce while smearing his opponent, Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Margaret Radford.

We won't bore you with the excruciating details of the text-heavy mailer, which, come to think of it, resembled exactly the type that Mr. Bruce likes to send out. The brochure painted Republican Radford as an abortionist who promotes the gay agenda, is anti-gun, anti-Republican and probably anti-American. As the little jingle inside put it, "like a child's puzzle, connect the dots. You'll find the RINO, with all her spots. That reference was meant to be an insult, suggesting Radford is a Republican In Name Only (RINO), though last time we checked, Radford's views were decidedly none of those described above. Not to mention, rhinoceroses do not have spots, unless they possibly suffer from eczema or smallpox, which is almost as much of a stretch as, say, calling Bruce a "family man," which the mailer also attempted to do.

Call us skeptical. But what really interested the Independent were the photographs of Mr. Bruce and Ms. Radford that illustrated the mass mailer. The group that claimed ownership of the mailing -- the Colorado Republican Assembly -- used one of Mr. Bruce's official campaign photographs to enhance its brochure.

The photograph of Ms. Radford, meanwhile, appears to be the very same one that appeared in the June 10 issue of the Colorado Springs Independent. It was taken by photographer Bruce Elliott at a meeting of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition meeting. The Independent did not give permission to reprint this photograph, nor did Mr. Elliott. This means that the organization that stole this photo and reproduced it to promote the candidacy of Bruce did so in violation of federal and state copyright laws, which carries a number of penalties and enables us to seek damages.

This is Douglas Bruces official county commissioner - candidate photo, which also appeared in the brochure.
  • This is Douglas Bruces official county commissioner candidate photo, which also appeared in the brochure.

This week, we tracked down the people behind the Colorado Republican Assembly, a married couple named Arvin and Athenia Michel who live in Littleton, some 50 miles away from the county commissioner district that Mr. Bruce and Ms. Radford are seeking to serve.

On Tuesday, Arvin Michel said he was familiar with the brochure and confirmed he is a big supporter of Bruce. He claimed, however, that his wife -- who was not home -- had been the person who had worked on it. Mr. Michel denied any knowledge of how the photograph of Ms. Radford came to appear in the brochure promoting Mr. Bruce.

Athenia Michel, the group's registered agent, did not return subsequent phone messages seeking clarification. The Independent is considering its legal options.

Now, let's consider the other shadow group we mentioned earlier -- Active Citizens Together (ACT) -- which identifies itself as a "non-partisan, non-profit all-volunteer educational group" and happens to be registered to the aforementioned Douglas Bruce.

In a recent mailer, Bruce, who introduces himself as Chairman of ACT, asks the question: "Tired of the Big Government Mess?" Then he asks people to send him money -- $30 or $500 or $2,500, whatever you can. In the mailer, he also identifies himself as the GOP nominee for County Commissioner in the Aug. 10 election.

As Pete Maysmith of Colorado Common Cause, points out, such "education groups" are not supposed to promote the candidacy of any one candidate.

"How could one claim this is non-partisan then identify a candidate in what, by all accounts, is a hotly contested contest a few weeks away?" Maysmith asked. "That is just preposterous -- there is nothing nonpartisan about it."

These days, deception is the name of the game. Step right up, sucka ...


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