Rocky version of AP article omitted relevant information on campaign rule changes

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On September 15, the Rocky Mountain News shortened a September 14 Associated Press article, removing the comments of a Democratic attorney who pointed out that controversial campaign finance rules Colorado Secretary of State Gigi Dennis (R) recently adopted reportedly were drafted by Republican attorneys. The News' version of the article contained no indication of the roles played by GOP lawyers.

On September 15, the Rocky Mountain News shortened a September 14 Associated Press article by reporter Steven K. Paulson, removing the comments of a Democratic attorney who, among other things, pointed out that controversial campaign finance rules Colorado Secretary of State Gigi Dennis (R) recently adopted reportedly were drafted by Republican attorneys. The News' version of the article contained no indication of the roles played by attorneys for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez's campaign, the state Republican Party, and the Republican-backed Trailhead Group in creating the new rules.

Moreover, in reporting on a hearing to determine whether to delay the implementation of the revised campaign finance rules until after the November election, the version of the AP article the News published did not mention the testimony of Republican attorneys involved in the rule changes. According to the Nexis database, the AP article was published at 9:59 p.m. GMT (3:59 p.m. MT) on September 14. Media reports did not indicate what time the Republican attorneys testified. In contrast to the News' use of the AP article, a September 15 Denver Post article noted the Republican attorneys' testimony about their role in crafting Dennis's rules and included a statement by one of the attorneys, John Zakhem, that "My job is to win elections for Republicans."

Dennis issued the revised campaign finance rules August 2, prompting a lawsuit from a coalition of unions, private citizens, and a Democratic state representative seeking to block enforcement of the new rules. In addition to a rule that requires written consent to use membership dues for political campaigns, the new rules change the definition of a campaign contribution and require political committees to affirm under penalty of perjury that campaign contributions came from "permissible" sources.

As published in the News on September 15, the AP article about the previous day's hearing reported, "Attorneys for GOP Secretary of State Gigi Dennis on Thursday defended her new campaign finance laws against allegations that they were designed to punish Democrats, saying she had to make the changes to prevent corruption." The article also reported, "Deputy Attorney General Justin Dunn told the judge unions and other small-donor groups were taking advantage of loopholes to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates, giving them an unfair advantage. He said Dennis has a duty to enforce campaign finance laws approved by voters."

While the version of the AP article published by the News noted the Democratic criticism that "Dennis abused her authority by limiting contributions from Democratic supporters just two months before the election," it failed to include that day's testimony by the Republican attorneys who requested the rule changes and did not note that their request was politically motivated.

In addition, the News' reprinting of Paulson's AP article removed the comments of Democratic attorney Mark Grueskin, who, according to the original AP article "said attorneys for Republicans drafted the new rules and Dennis approved them without disclosing where she got them, a requirement when the secretary of state adopts new rules." The original AP article, unlike the News' version, also noted that "Grueskin told [Denver District Judge John] McMullen the new rules were a blatant attempt by Republicans to punish unions and other small-donor groups who were giving money to Democrats." (Grueskin also serves as counsel for Colorado Media Matters.)

Similar to the AP article's statement that Dennis's lawyers denied that the rule changes "were designed to punish Democrats," the Post reported September 15 that Dennis "has said politics played no part in her decisionmaking." But unlike the News' version of the AP article, the Post article -- along with previous Post reports -- contained relevant information that appears to undermine this assertion.

The September 15 article in the Post reported, "A few weeks before Secretary of State Gigi Dennis was asked to change campaign finance rules, five politically connected Republicans met to discuss what rules they wanted to revise, according to testimony Thursday." The Post further explained:

Three GOP lawyers -- Scott Gessler, John Zakhem and Richard Westfall -- along with Jack Stansbery and Alan Philp of the Republican political committee Trailhead Group, met in Zakhem's office a "few weeks" before those lawyers approached the Republican secretary, Westfall testified in Denver district court.

Colorado Media Matters has noted that an August 24 Post article reported that Zakhem, who represents Trailhead and the state Republican Party, and Gessler, an attorney for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez's campaign, "proposed requiring groups to get written permission from each member to transfer dues to a political or small-donor committee." According to the Post, that rule "was adopted in its entirety by Dennis." Apparently in reference to the same rule change, the News reported August 25, "The language in one new provision was taken verbatim from a recommendation by GOP attorneys John Zakhem and Scott Gessler."

In addition, after noting that Dennis "has said politics played no role in her decisionmaking," the Post's September 15 article quoted Zakhem's September 14 testimony that his "job is to win elections for Republicans." According to the Post:

The group came up with a number of proposed rules changes, some of which were adopted by Dennis. Among other things, the new rules limit campaign activities of some traditionally Democratic groups, such as unions and small-donor committees. Dennis, who will testify today via telephone, has said politics played no part in her decisionmaking.

Zakhem testified that he and others had concerns about the amount of money that organized labor's committees were raising for Democratic candidates.

"My job is to win elections for Republicans," explained Zakhem, who counsels Trailhead and the state Republican Party.

As Colorado Media Matters has noted, the Post's August 24 article reported that "Gessler acknowledged politics played a role" in his advocacy for Dennis's rule changes.

The Post's September 15 report on Zakhem's testimony also included his apparent rationale for Dennis's requiring political committees to affirm under penalty of perjury that campaign contributions came from "permissible" sources:

Additionally, Zakhem said he suspected a number of small-donor committees violated state law by collecting contributions from foreigners.

"Looking at the names of contributors, we made a deduction that many were non-U.S. citizens," he said.

The version of Paulson's September 14 AP article, "Dennis' lawyers defend changes in law," published by the Rocky Mountain News:

Attorneys for GOP Secretary of State Gigi Dennis on Thursday defended her new campaign finance laws against allegations that they were designed to punish Democrats, saying she had to make the changes to prevent corruption.

A Democratic-backed group is asking Denver District Judge John McMullen to bar Dennis from imposing the rules while it presses a lawsuit to overturn them. The group claims Dennis abused her authority by limiting contributions from Democratic supporters just two months before the election.

One of the new rules requires groups that collect membership dues to get permission from members to give money to political committees. The other requires donor groups to certify that none of the money came from people barred by state law from contributing to political campaigns, including foreign workers who are members of those organizations.

Dennis was expected to testify today. McMullen has not said when he will rule.

Deputy Attorney General Justin Dunn told the judge unions and other small-donor groups were taking advantage of loopholes to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates, giving them an unfair advantage. He said Dennis has a duty to enforce campaign finance laws approved by voters.

Dunn said unions were making large campaign contributions, and that some of their members were unaware their dues were being used to help candidates they didn't support.

The group challenging the rules said state law does not require candidates to disclose the source of contributions under $20.

From the original version of Paulson's September 14 AP article, "Secretary of state's attorneys defend new campaign finance rules":

Attorney Mark Grueskin told McMullen the new rules were a blatant attempt by Republicans to punish unions and other small-donor groups who were giving money to Democrats.

He said attorneys for Republicans drafted the new rules and Dennis approved them without disclosing where she got them, a requirement when the secretary of state adopts new rules.

Grueskin said the secretary of state can implement rules only to enforce laws. He said there was no law requiring labor unions or other small-donor groups to disclose the information the new rules demand.

Grueskin said the rules don't affect most Republican candidates because they get their contributions from major donors.

"There is no reasonable reason to treat these organizations differently," Grueskin said.

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