County clerk on receiving end of elections-reform attack mailing

Flier’s return address is Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s former law firm

DENVER – La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee Parker opened her mailbox Saturday to find a political attack ad with her own picture on it.

The flier’s return address is Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s former law firm. Parker is advocating for an elections-overhaul bill against Gessler’s wishes.

The mailer digitally altered a picture to remove black people from a photo of voters standing in line, but the company that designed it said it was trying to make a point about voter fraud, not race.

Gessler and Parker are Republicans. But Parker, like most county clerks of both parties, supports a bill to send mail ballots to all voters and close neighborhood polling places in favor of a few centralized voting locations. The bill, House Bill 1303, also allows voters to register on Election Day – an idea loathed by many Republicans, who say it can lead to voter fraud.

Fliers that landed in mailboxes last weekend target Parker and Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner. The fliers came from a group called Citizens for Free and Fair Elections, with a return address that matches Gessler’s former law firm.

Rich Coolidge, Gessler’s spokesman, said Gessler had nothing to do with the flier.

“He left the Hackstaff Law Group about 2½ years ago, and to insinuate otherwise is completely unfair and reckless,” Coolidge said.

The flier tries to link Parker to controversial gun bills the Legislature passed this year.

“First, Colorado Democrats helped Barack Obama grab your guns. Now, they are trying to steal your vote. And La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Parker has signed on to their agenda to undermine our elections and allow rampant voter fraud,” the flier says.

The piece went to active Republican voters in La Plata County, according to a spokesman for the group that sent it.

Parker was not involved with the gun bills. The only bill in the Legislature that contemplates gun confiscation is one that requires people who have a restraining order for domestic violence to surrender their guns.

Parker first saw the flier Saturday, when she got her mail.

“I’m a little shocked, actually,” she said.

The flier asks people to call Parker’s office and complain about the bill.

“I have not received one phone call” from the flier, Parker said. “I’ve just gotten really positive feedback.”

Parker plans to testify for the bill again this Wednesday at a Senate hearing.

Citizens for Free and Fair Elections was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2009 by Hackstaff Gessler LLC. Gessler left the firm when he was elected secretary of state, and the firm is now known as Hackstaff Law Group.

Gessler’s financial disclosures show that he receives income from Hackstaff, but that is from a buyout agreement and not ongoing work, Coolidge said.

As a nonprofit, Citizens for Free and Fair Elections does not have to reveal its donors. Its 2010 and 2011 tax forms list Bill Ray, a Republican political consultant, as the executive director.

Ray said Gessler had no part in putting together the flier.

“Absolutely not. No involvement with him or anyone in the secretary of state’s office,” Ray said.

The group has a broad base of contributors, but it does not plan to reveal its donors, Ray said.

The group’s website is defunct, but the Internet Archive shows that in 2011, its website argued against a potential ballot question to make it harder to amend the state constitution.

Earlier this year, Citizens for Free and Fair Elections sent out fliers against Colorado Springs City Councilman Tim Leigh, according to The Colorado Springs Business Journal.

A commenter on the liberal blog ColoradoPols.com traced a photo used in the anti-Parker flier to a Getty Images picture of Virginia voters waiting in line during last year’s presidential election. The same person noticed that the faces of two black people were removed in the flier. In one case, a black woman’s face was replaced by duplicating the face of a white woman standing next to her.

Ray said the firm that printed and designed the flier, Wizbang Solutions, altered the photo without knowledge or permission of anyone at Citizens for Free and Fair Elections.

“We neither approved nor asked for any Photoshopping to be done to the photo,” Ray said.

A Wizbang employee named “Mike,” who would not give his last name, read a statement from the company to the Herald:

“Wizbang Solutions, in an effort to underscore the theme of voter fraud, edited a stock photo. Our actions were merely to provide a visual context of the same person waiting in line to vote. Any assertions that the editing was for any other purpose is political folly and takes away from the subtle undertone intended by our artist.”

The digital alterations brought condemnation from regional leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Whoever did this should be ashamed. What message does this send to people of color in Colorado – and all of us – about our elections system?” said NAACP State Conference President Rosemary Harris Lytle and two other officials in a news release.

Wizbang’s website lists a number of commercial clients, but it also does frequent work for Colorado Republican candidates and committees.

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