DA to probe ads targeting Democratic Senate hopeful
Legislative candidate called inept police chief
By PAM ZUBECK THE GAZETTE
Campaign ads portraying Democratic Senate District 11 candidate John Morse as an incompetent police chief will be investigated by the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Morse, who’s opposing incumbent Republican Ed Jones, filed a complaint Tuesday, alleging a political organization backed by Gov. Bill Owens broke a law that bars “knowingly” using false statements in campaign advertising. “I think it’s too bad that we don’t focus on the issues that are important to people, but rather on fictitious personal attacks,” Morse said. “I recognize, however, that if you can make your opponent look more negative than you, you can win.” At issue are radio and cable TV ads and mailers that blame Morse, the former Fountain police chief, for a plea bargain in a standoff. The ads inaccurately state that a man who fired shots during a Halloween 2003 standoff in Fountain pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor because of bad police work. Aaron Ulma was sentenced in August 2004 to three years in prison on a felony menacing charge stemming from the standoff at his home. In exchange for the guilty plea, 14 other charges were dismissed. Police at first thought Ulma fired at them but later said he shot a handgun three times to provoke police into shooting him. Dissatisfied with the plea deal, his wife, Claudia Ulma, has charged the plea bargain resulted from botched police work. But Deputy District Attorney John Armstrong defended the work of Morse’s department, saying at the time the police investigation was professional and adequate. The ads were funded by the Trailhead Group, a 527 organization, which was set up and is supported by Owens, millionaire Bruce Benson and beer magnate and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Pete Coors. Trailhead’s executive director, Alan Philp, said the inaccuracies in the ads occurred when Trailhead workers relied on minutes from a Fountain City Council meeting where the case was dis-
cussed. Trailhead didn’t consult the court record, Philp said. He declined to apologize for the “inadvertent” error and accused Morse of filing a complaint to deflect attention from “his record as police chief.” “We made a mistake, but the core of the ad is accurate,” Philp said, because the intent was “to call into question his management as a police chief. We’re committed to an honest debate, and we do our best to get our facts straight. This doesn’t distract from this being an important issue.” Philp said the ads Trailhead paid for ran, but Morse said they were pulled from the air when stations were told of the error by his campaign’s lawyer. At least one station, KYZF, 103.9 FM The Eagle, confirmed Morse’s account. General Manager Lou Mellini said the station pulled the ads “immediately,” at 8:35 a.m. Friday, after receiving a letter from Morse’s attorney. Stations 92.9 KSPZ FM and KVOR 740 AM and Adelphia cable television could not be reached by The Gazette. Chief Deputy District Attorney Lisa Kirkman wouldn’t discuss the investigation. She said Trailhead’s association with political power brokers won’t have an effect. “Our job is to review the facts and apply the law,” she said. “Politics does not come into play.” Morse raised $59,273 and had $22,988 as of Sept. 5, according to secretary of state records. Jones had $3,260 as of July 31, the most recent report available. Records did not show how much has been raised in this campaign cycle. The Senate District 11 race is seen as pivotal this year because the district has nearly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans in a GOPdominated county.
John Morse: “It’s too bad that we don’t focus on the issues.”