Will Gazette report on potential legal ramifications of Lamborn's gambling funds?

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

While other Colorado media outlets have reported developments in a controversy involving U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), his handling of campaign contributions from the gaming industry, and two constituents critical of him, The Gazette of Colorado Springs -- which is published in Lamborn's 5th Congressional District -- has provided little coverage in comparison.

A September 8 article by The Denver Post indicating that Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO) may have violated campaign finance laws with his handling of contributions from the gaming industry raised the question of whether the largest newspaper in Lamborn's district, The Gazette of Colorado Springs, will report further news about the controversy.

As Colorado Media Matters noted September 5, The Gazette -- compared with the Post and the Rocky Mountain News -- has given little coverage to a controversy involving Lamborn's campaign contributions from the gaming industry. After publishing a September 2 Associated Press article reporting how Lamborn left "threatening" voice mails for two constituents who had accused him of accepting campaign contributions from the gambling industry, a September 6 article noting Lamborn's apology to the same constituents, and a September 8 "Briefly Local" item (accessed through the newspaper's electronic edition) containing comment on the controversy from the El Paso County Republican Party, The Gazette as of September 11 had failed to report on new developments. In contrast, the Post on September 8 advanced the story, reporting that the Lamborn campaign may have violated campaign finance law by failing to return a $1,000 check from the political action committee for International Game Technology (IGT) within the required 10 days.

As the Post reported on September 2, Lamborn "left two voice mails at the home of a couple who questioned his acceptance of campaign contributions from the gambling industry, saying there would be 'consequences' if the couple did not respond. Jonathan and Anna Bartha wrote a letter printed in the Aug. 24 Woodmen Edition, a community newspaper." The Post further reported, "The couple raised concerns about Lamborn's receipt of $1,000 from International Game Technology PAC and a $500 contribution last summer from Marc Murphy, an executive of Bronco Billy's Casino in Cripple Creek. IGT makes gambling equipment."

The September 2 AP article (which appeared in The Gazette's September 3 electronic and print editions) similarly reported, "A Colorado Springs couple are complaining that U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn left them two threatening voice mails after they wrote a letter criticizing his fundraising." The AP article published in The Gazette continued:

According to Jonathan Bartha and Anna Bartha, Lamborn said there would be "consequences" if they did not withdraw their letter.

"We felt very threatened and intimidated, and quite frankly, scared," Anna Bartha told The Denver Post. "It was just not anything we would ever anticipate an elected official would pursue or a way that an elected official would conduct himself."

Lamborn, in a call to The Associated Press on Sunday, said there was never intention to threaten anyone and that he had never accepted money from the gambling industry as alleged by the Barthas.

He said he would make his banking records available and that his spending reports show he never took the money offered by the industry.

[...]

Federal records confirm the donations were accepted, but Lamborn said he returned them. He did not say when and The Post said there is no federal record of them being returned.

In the September 6 article by R. Scott Rappold, The Gazette reported, "U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn has apologized to a Colorado Springs couple who say the congressman left them threatening voice mails after they questioned his fundraising practices":

Lamborn, a first-term Colorado Springs Republican, said Wednesday he was misconstrued when he left Jonathan and Anna Bartha a message saying there would be "consequences" if they did not withdraw a letter criticizing him for apparently accepting money from gambling interests.

Federal Elections Commission records show International Gaming Technology sent Lamborn a $1,000 check in January, though Lamborn said it was returned because he would not accept money from the gambling industry, which he opposes.

[...]

Chuck Brooke, the company's senior vice president for government affairs, said the check -- sent in January -- hadn't been returned by the time the company's political action committee filed its midyear FEC report in June.

The check was sent to Lamborn unsolicited, after his name was provided by a senior GOP lawmaker raising money for freshman Republicans, Brooke said. He could not say exactly when the check was returned but said it was "several weeks" ago.

Lamborn said the delay in returning the check was because his wife is running the finances for his campaign committee, and she was frequently out of the state to be with her ill mother.

The Gazette's September 6 article, however, failed to report that a government watchdog group has called for a congressional ethics probe into the controversy, as the Post reported in a September 5 article. According to the Post, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) "requested a congressional inquiry into" whether Lamborn, according to CREW's letter to the U.S. House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, "violated House rules by improperly threatening two constituents who revealed publicly that Rep. Lamborn had accepted campaign contributions from the gaming industry."

In a still later development unreported by The Gazette, the Post reported September 8 that the Federal Election Commission could impose a $6,500 fine on Lamborn if he's found in violation of "regulations [that] say contributions made to political campaigns must be deposited or returned within 10 days." The Post stated that IGT sent "a check for $1,000 to Lamborn's campaign on Jan. 30, 2007." According to Cleta Mitchell, a campaign-finance and election-law attorney whom the Lamborn campaign asked to speak to the Post, the IGT check was overlooked in a stack of mail:

Cleta Mitchell, a campaign-finance and election-law attorney who was asked by Lamborn's campaign to speak with The Denver Post, said "they may be in a technical violation."

When asked where the check was, Mitchell said: "It was just in a stack, and my understanding is that his wife's mother was terminally ill."

Lamborn told The Denver Post that his wife had been traveling back and forth to Illinois to care for her ailing mother and the check was overlooked.

Neither Lamborn nor a spokesperson for the law firm that represents IGT would provide documentation showing the check had been returned.

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