JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- A state Senate candidate filed a complaint with the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office over a political mailer with claims that Denver7 PolitiFact has already deemed "Pants on Fire."
Democratic State Senate candidate Rachel Zenzinger is now asking for the district attorney's help in alerting the voting public to the violation and preventing the group behind the flier from continuing activity during the election. That group is Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government.
Zenzinger is challenging State Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, in a very competitive District 19, which covers Arvada and Westminster. Woods beat Zenzinger in 2014 by 663 votes.
The latest claim from the mailer reads: "But Rachel Zenzinger wanted to use tax money to pay for her trip to China."
"This is a lie that has been debunked repeatedly," Zenzinger told Denver7. "The reason I'm filing the complaint is that I believe that they actually have crossed the line to where this is criminal. It's not even a stretching of the truth. It's just not the truth and it's being used to influence voters."
The mailer also states:
"Voted to use taxpayer dollars for China trip. When Rachel Zenzinger was on the Arvada City Council, she voted to spend taxpayer funds for a junket to China. She wanted taxpayers to pay the bill for her airfare, lodging, transportation and food."
The mailer also contains a partial quote from Arvada Mayor Marc Williams: "Did she support a motion that would have funded through city funds the opportunity for her to go? Yes, she did."
The mailer did not use Williams’ full comment in defense of Zenzinger from July 5: He stressed that she also made the subsequent successful motion "with the explicit direction that no city funds be used."
"My negativity toward their ad is that it implies that she actually took that trip, and she didn’t," Williams said of the group's mailer.
Zenzinger and other officials said Williams was mistaken in saying she voted to use public funds for the trip in the first unsuccessful motion. That motion she voted for was this: “Councilmember Dyer moved to accept the recommendations of the Sister Cities organization and send a delegation to Jinzhou.” There is no mention of funding in that motion. Then Zenzinger chose to explicitly make a motion to prohibit use of public funds for the trip. She voted for that motion and it passed. She never went on a trip to China.
Yet, the current mailer clearly gives impression that not only did Zenzinger vote to take a taxpayer-funded trip but she went on “her trip to China.” CCAG inserted a traditional Vietnamese bamboo hat on Zenzinger in a photo in the mailer with a Chinese rooftop in the background.
On July 5, Denver7 PolitiFact checked the facts of a mailer from "Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government" that was sent in opposition of Zenzinger.
That mailer read, "Rachel Zenzinger voted to use taxpayer money on a trip to China…"
"While serving in the city council, Rachel Zenzinger voted to use tax dollars to take a taxpayer funded junket to China," the mailer said.
Denver7 PolitiFact rated the mailer, "Pants on Fire," the worst rating because the statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
In April 2013, Zenzinger was an Arvada City Councilwoman, who took part in a motion regarding a sister city agreement with the Chinese city of Jinzhou.
The council members were discussing an invitation from the mayor of Jinzhou, to send an official delegation from Arvada to the 2013 World Landscape Art Exposition.
A nonprofit group, Arvada Sister Cities International, recommended that the invitation be accepted and that an official delegation -- including Arvada city officials, members of the local Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Arvada Sister Cities -- attend the Jinzhou expo.
Councilman Bob Dyer made a motion to accept the group’s recommendation and send a delegation to Jinzhou, according to the meeting minutes.
The minutes of the meeting reveal that Mayor Marc Williams was uncomfortable using public funds on the trip.
The mayor said "since he understands the motion includes sending delegation members from the city at city expense, he cannot support it," according to the minutes. However, he said he would back sending Zenzinger as the elected representative if her travel was privately funded.
The minutes also read, "Williams said if the motion is to accept Mayor Pro Tern Zenzinger going as a representative with her way being paid outside of city dollars, then he is a thousand percent for that."
Zenzinger voted for the Dyer motion to send a delegation, but it failed, 4-3.
A different motion by Zenzinger to accept the invitation to send an official delegation "and that the highest ranking Election Official would be paid for by the Sister Cities Organization and that consideration of a staff member would be appointed to the delegation, but that no hard costs on the part of the city be used to fund that individual," passed 5-2.
"I made a motion that said, 'Yes, you can go to China as an official delegation, providing that no taxpayer dollars be used,'" Zenzinger told Denver7. "It's crossed the line now because they're saying 'I went to China,' 'For my trip to China.'"
Zenzinger believes Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government is violating state law.
Colorado State Law 1-13-109 reads:
- "False or reckless statements relating to candidates or questions submitted to electors."
"No person shall knowingly make, publish, broadcast, or circulate or cause to be made, published, broadcasted, or circulated in any letter, circular, advertisement, or poster or in any other communication any false statement designed to affect the vote on any issue submitted to the electors at any election or relating to any candidate for election to public office."
"No person shall recklessly make, publish, broadcast, or circulate or cause to be made, published, broadcasted, or circulated in any letter, circular, advertisement, or poster or in any other communication any false statement designed to affect the vote on any issue submitted to the electors at any election or relating to any candidate for election to public office. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, for purposes of this subsection (2), a person acts "recklessly" when he or she acts in conscious disregard of the truth or falsity of the statement made, published, broadcasted, or circulated."
A violation under this law is a misdemeanor.
"They dance it out in the last few days in the campaign, as ballots were arriving in people's hands, so that you can't do anything about it, and I think that that needs to stop," said Zenzinger.
She told Denver7 of a recent visit to the post office where a voter knew her because of the content of the flier.
"The woman in front of me was holding some post cards, and she said, 'Is that for business?' And I said, 'Well, kind of. I'm a candidate for the state Senate.' She goes, 'Oh, are you the one that went on that trip to China?' Perfect stranger at the post office," said Zenzinger.
Zenzinger's opponent, Woods, is not behind the fliers.
"This is not my opponent's campaign directly that is saying this, and so therefore I am calling on her to renounce these lies," said Zenzinger.