The text messages about Republican candidates for U.S. Senate landed in quick succession at about 1:30 p.m. April 9, the day of the Colorado GOP’s state assembly.
Four blasted conservative radio host Deborah Flora. Two attacked state Rep. Ron Hanks, while another criticized former Olympian Eli Bremer.
None of those seven texts – which were sent to delegates at the assembly – identified the sender, even though the Federal Election Commission requires disclosures. And they almost certainly won’t be the last political text messages sent to Coloradans as the 2022 election cycle kicks into high gear.
Anonymous political messages in Colorado aren’t new – two years ago, for instance, someone sent an unsigned email blast lambasting several Weld County primary candidates – but such texts are poised to play an even bigger role in this year’s primary and general elections. State and federal authorities rarely enforce disclosure laws when it comes to electronic messaging, so Coloradans may be left wondering in the weeks and months ahead who is behind the missives trying to sway their vote.
“This area of the law is really a mess,” said Adav Noti, vice president and legal director for the Campaign Legal Center. “The rules for disclaimers on these sorts of messages are decades old.”
Noti predicted the issue of anonymous text attacks on candidates will only get worse.
“This seems to be one of the primary new focuses for the ‘22 election cycle, peer-to-peer texting,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to file a complaint about when you don’t know who’s sending the messages. It’s the wild West.”
Former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, said he has a policy to disregard the information he receives in anonymous messages.
“When I get something that’s not attributable to somebody, I give it a lot less credence,” he said. “If something is true, for the most part people should be willing to say it is and say who they are.”
It’s not clear if the anonymous messages can sway the outcome of a contest.
Bremer said he doesn’t think the texts made a difference at the state assembly, where he failed to pick up enough delegate support to advance to the primary. Hanks was the only candidate to make the June 28 ballot, with Flora, Bremer and Campana finishing after him in that order.
“Obviously, someone wanted to take a pound of flesh out of me,” Bremer told The Sun. “I don’t think it made a hoot of difference in how people voted. From what we can tell, that result was largely baked in the cake.”
Delegates at the assembly also received a text from Campana’s campaign praising the former Fort Collins city councilor on election security and vowing that “2020 will never happen again!”
Bremer said he had lunch with Campana last week, and the Fort Collins business owner said the texts didn’t come from his campaign.
“I trust that he didn’t personally have anything to do with it,” Bremer said.
A spokesman for Campana’s campaign didn’t return voicemails or a text message requesting comment.
Flora’s campaign declined to talk about the texts, and Hanks didn’t return a voicemail from The Sun.
The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.