NRA News promoted an ad targeting Colorado Senate President John Morse, who is facing a recall election over his support for stronger gun laws, that baselessly suggested Morse used taxpayer money for haircuts and golf outings. The allegations in the ad stem from a 2011 ethics complaint filed against Morse that was unanimously dismissed by a bipartisan ethics panel, a fact the ad does not disclose.
The ad features Laura Carno, the founder of pro-recall group I Am Created Equal, claiming that Morse "charged us for days when you got your hair cut and when you went golfing" while a graphic stated, "Tell John Morse Don't Golf And Get Haircuts On Our Dime." From the August 21 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News, the media arm of the National Rifle Association:
CARNO: Senator Morse, the ethics investigation against you wasn't trivial. When you reimburse yourself with our money, it should be for work you do on our behalf. But Senator Morse, you charged us for days when you got your hair cut and when you went golfing. We didn't elect you to be king, Senator Morse. Every dollar you spend comes out of our pockets. And Senator Morse we don't want to pay for your haircuts and golf games.
Tellingly the ad featured a quote from an April 12, 2011, Associated Press article, ignoring that the article was about the complaint being dismissed:
The ethics complaint discussed in the ad was filed against Morse in 2011 by a conservative watchdog group that often targeted Democrats. As The Colorado Statesman explained:
The request for an ethics investigation was filed with the Senate on March 10 by the Colorado Government Accountability Project (CoGAP), a conservative non-profit that investigates alleged Democratic wrong-doing. The founder of CoGAP, Stephanie Cegielski, is a former employee of the Secretary of State's office who is tied to Republican activists, conservative blogs, and the current Secretary of State. To date, CoGAP, which claims it is non-partisan, has filed complaints only against Democrats or organizations linked to Democrats.
The complaint itself alleged that entries regarding golf outings and haircut appointments in Morse's 2009 calendar proved that he had collected a per diem from the state on days that he had not been engaged in state business. Members of Colorado General Assembly leadership are entitled to collect a $99 per diem for state-related work when the legislature is not in session.
In response to the filing of the complaint, Morse told The Denver Post, "This complaint is bogus but a complaint does need to be investigated so let's go." In a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee arguing for dismissal of the complaint, Morse wrote that the allegation against him "falls short of demonstrating any cause whatsoever, much less probable cause that a violation of Senate rules has occurred," and noted that the complaint did not offer any proof he was not working on days he claimed per diem. From The Colorado Statesman:
Cegielski used as sole proof of her allegations a comparison of Morse's 2009 calendar and the per diem requests. "Ms. Cegielski made assumptions that if my calendar was blank on a particular day then I did not work on legislative matters," Morse wrote, and that if the calendar was inconsistent with the reimbursement form, the calendar was "the controlling document. The reverse is true -- the forms, certified and submitted for reimbursement, control," Morse said.
On April 12, 2011 the complaint was unanimously dismissed by an ethics panel comprised of three Democratic and two Republican senators with ethics committee chair Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) stating, "I haven't found anything that suggests there was an abuse."
Reached for comment by Media Matters, Colorado Ethics Watch director Luis Toro noted that "the complaint was dismissed at the first stage," citing Colorado Senate Rule 43 which states that the ethics committee only holds a hearing if "the committee determines probable cause exists to find that a violation may have occurred."
NRA News has previously provided a platform for trumped up charges against Morse and Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo), who is also facing recall over her support for stronger gun laws. During an August 13 appearance on NRA News, a spokesperson for pro-recall organization Basic Freedom Defense Fund baselessly alleged that Morse's campaign was plotting to commit "massive amounts of voter fraud including ballots possibly even being mailed in from Chicago." The spokesperson appeared again on NRA News the next day to double down on her allegations and call on Morse and Giron to sign a pledge promising not to commit voter fraud.
Like Morse, Giron has faced bogus ethics charges during the recall campaign. The Pueblo Chieftain newspaper and its news partner KRDO devoted significant coverage to an alleged ethics complaint filed against Giron after she listed her state email address on her campaign website. It was later revealed that the complaint, which Colorado Ethics Watch predicted would be "almost certainly dismissed as frivolous," was never accepted by the Colorado Secretary of State for review.