O’Dea campaign to file a complaint over shadowy ad touting his rival for Senate seat

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea speaks at a Western Conservative Summit forum on Friday, June 3, 2022.

Updated at 4:30 p.m., June 17, 2022

Republican U.S Senate primary candidate Joe O’Dea’s campaign plans to file a federal election complaint early next week over an attack ad now arriving in some Colorado GOP primary voters’ mailboxes. 

The mailer did not disclose who paid for it, which is required under federal election laws. 

O’Dea’s campaign said they suspect the mailers are part of a larger coordinated Democratic effort to spend money in the primary race to attack O’Dea, who is more moderate than his Republican opponent, state house Rep. Ron Hanks. 

Both men are seeking to challenge Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet this fall.

The mailer criticizes O’Dea for supporting President Biden’s infrastructure bill and for previously donating to Democratic politicians who want “to take away your gun rights” including Bennet and “gun control advocate John Hickenlooper.” In the past O’Dea, a contractor, did make contributions to Hickenlooper and Bennet, and he supported the infrastructure bill.

The CPR News voter guide to Colorado’s 2022 primary elections: How to vote, who’s running and more to know

The message also highlights that O’Dea’s opponent, Hanks, won top billing at the state GOP assembly (O’Dea petitioned onto the ballot) and describes Hanks as a defender of the second amendment and “protector of the unborn.”

O’Dea’s campaign also disputes the accuracy of the ad, and its implication that O’Dea supports gun control. His campaign notes that he’s been endorsed by the Colorado State Shooting Association, the official state chapter of the National Rifle Association.

When CPR News asked Hanks whether the mailer was sent by his campaign or anyone affiliated with it he texted,  “it did not come from our campaign.”

It’s widely believed that Bennet would face a more competitive race this fall against  O’Dea, a businessman and first-time candidate who has focused on pocketbook issues during his campaign. 

Hanks, who attended the Jan. 6th pro-Trump rally in Washington D.C., has made false claims about election integrity a centerpiece of his time at the statehouse.

And now at least two Democratic-aligned groups are getting involved in Colorado’s Republican primary.

ProgressNow Colorado launched a “No Way O’Dea” campaign on Wednesday. That event came on the same day a different organization, Democratic Colorado, started running a nearly $ 1 million statewide television ad focused on Hanks’ conservative credentials. The O’Dea mail piece arrived in mailboxes that same day.

In a written statement, Zack Roday, the O’Dea for Senate Campaign Manager said the campaign is planning a massive strategy to “hold these people accountable.” He said the mailers are an effort to illegally hide Democratic donors.

“Coloradans have a legal right to know which organizations and donors are behind this desperate effort to interfere in the Republican primary for Senate.”

The mailer also tries to highlight Hanks’ uncompromising abortion stance. He has said he believes life begins at conception and opposes abortion without exceptions, including for the life of the mother. O’Dea has said he supports allowing the procedure early in pregnancy and later in pregnancy for medical necessity or in the case of rape or incest. He does not support state or federal funding for the procedure.

The ads and Democratic spending will deliver a much-needed influx of money and publicity for Hanks who is the financial underdog. According to the latest FEC filings, Hanks has $20,470 to spend, while O’Dea has around one million.

Political observers say the funding could tighten the contest.

Hanks said he’s focused on running a grassroots campaign and hasn’t assessed the possible effects of this effort. 

“They have the right under America's 1st Amendment to engage in political speech and opinion, and I will not disavow that right.  In fact, I served 32 years in the military to defend it,” texted Hanks. 

Former GOP state chairman Dick Wadhams said it’s highly unusual for a mailer not to include the legally required disclosure.

“I think it's pretty cowardly of a group of entities or individuals who won't put some kind of an indication who paid for these flyers,” said Wadhams.  “It's another insight into their character and their negative role in campaigns.”

Divided equally among Democrats and Republicans by design, the Federal Elections Commission regularly fails to advance cases on 3-3 votes, forcing complaining parties to turn to the courts. O'Dea's campaign said the campaign could take additional steps to uncover the source of the ads.

“I imagine we'll know at some point who did these flyers and I hope some action is taken,” said Wadhams. “ But the bottom line is that you can get away with this, at least for a while.”

Ballots for the state’s June 28th primary have already started arriving in voters' mailboxes.

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect that O’Dea’s campaign does dispute the accuracy of the mailer and updated with the campaigns' most recent financial figures.