State senate candidate Tony Sanchez’s decision to send a negative mailer, widely seen as off-the-charts nasty, appears to have backfired. Donations to his opponent, Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood), have skyrocketed since the postcard appeared in voters’ mailboxes.
Pettersen’s latest campaign finance report shows 73 donations on October 24, the day after the mailer hit Lakewood mailboxes.
Three are from prominent figures in Colorado politics, including $200 from the top-ranking Republican in statewide office, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. According to campaign finance records, it’s the only donation Coffman has ever made to a Democrat,
Robin Hickenlooper of Liberty Media, who’s married to the Governor of Colorado, also donated $200.
Another $50 came from Lynn Bartels, also a Republican, who serves as Communications Director for Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
Reached for comment, Bartels said that she has been friends with Rep. Pettersen for years and that she believed the ad was “below the belt.”
“I was a reporter for 35 years so I’m used to ugly mailers, but I just felt this was so personal. It was hurtful,” she said. “It’s not a large amount, but I felt there needed to be a statement made.”
Bartels also pointed out that the majority of her own political donations are to Wayne Williams’ re-election campaign.
In total, Pettersen raised $4,277 in a single day. The campaign raised $23,464.08 in its previous two-week reporting period.
The mailer attacked Pettersen over a policy issue, the opioid crisis, that is also deeply personal for her family. Her mother’s struggle with heroin addiction has been a driving force in Pettersen’s work as a public servant.
It was sufficiently vicious that it received its own news coverage, leading a Denver Post review of this season’s worst political ads. The Colorado Independent described it as “an ugly swipe at Pettersen… In an attempt to turn her family’s story and her work against the opioid crisis against her, [Sanchez’s] campaign sent a mailer showing an image of a dirty hypodermic needle and spoon.”
The vitriol and sheer volume of Colorado’s political advertising has reached an unprecedented levels this year, especially in the highly contested state senate, where Republicans hold just a one-seat majority.
Sandra Fish reported for the Colorado Sun that spending on the state senate races is a staggering five times more than in 2016.
On Fish’s other campaign-finance tracking project, called Follow The Message, she notes that the Sanchez mailer shared the same postal account with another negative mail piece sent by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners PAC. RMGO has sent mailers not only attacking Pettersen, but also Rep. Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge) and Rep. Faith Winter (D-Westminster) in their respective campaigns for state senate.
The relentless stream of mailers certainly get attention and keep the post office busy, but the real money goes to television, where six-figure ad buys made by largely anonymous entities are the norm. On October 23, Better Jobs Coalition, an independent expenditure committee run by former candidate and toffee magnate Rick Enstrom, dropped a stunning $650,000 at once on TV ads supporting Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik (R-Thornton) and opposing Rep. Winter.
Smaller but more numerous ad buys with the opposite intent have been made by progressive groups, such as Coloradans for Fairness, in the same district.