Stop the Smear Campaign Against Caldara
by Ari Armstrong, November 16, 2005
In a November 15 letter to the Rocky Mountain News, Jerry L. Colness writes, "[T]he anti-Referendum C crowd of naysayers, led by Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute, spoke down to voters with their campaigns of jingoistic misinformation, outright lies and lack of integrity." And in a November 16 letter to the same paper, Doug Hubka writes that Jon Caldara's "misinformation, distortions and outright falsehoods were an insult to the people of Colorado."
Neither letter offers even a single example of Caldara's alleged "lies" or "falsehoods."
During the debate over Referendum C, the "yes" camp attempted to discredit Caldara for the obvious reason that they thought that by doing so they'd be more likely to win. (In addition to serving as the head of the Independence Institute, Caldara led a "vote no" group.) The "yes" campaign had the cooperation of the biased Denver media (as I've noted). Now, the smearing of Caldara's character continues, for the apparent reason that some people don't like the work or philosophy of Caldara's organization.
As neither letter writer named a single instance of Caldara's shortcomings, I'll provide the relevant information.
* Caldara spoke as though the state purchased dildos, when in fact the state offered a grant to an artist based partly on her submitted work, "12 Dildos on Hooks." Lynn Bartels of the News and Bob Ewegen of The Denver Post blew Caldara's minor error out of all proportion. Whether the state bought dildos or offered a grant based partly on dildos, it's still a wasteful expense. In some cases, as when Caldara spoke of bidding out contracts for dildos, he was obviously joking. In her September 16 article -- the article that prompted Ewegen to call Caldara a liar -- Bartels quoted Caldara's obvious joke: "Nobody's saying you shouldn't be buying 12 dildos on hooks... We're just saying if you contract it out and competitively bid it, you might get a better price than $250 per sex toy." When Ewegen misstates the essential facts of the case, then that's just an innocent error, not a lie. When Mike Littwin of the News describes advocates of good government as "anti-government types," then that's just playful banter, not a lie. Yet when Caldara in playfulness makes a minor error, then he's suddenly the spawn of Satan. The media's double standards and hypocrisy on this matter are shameful.
* Caldara described a state grant to Red Robin without mentioning that the grant was to be paid out over future years. Again Caldara's "error" was minor, and again Bartels went ballistic and wrote a ridiculously biased story, as I've described.
* Finally -- and I regard this as a real and important error -- Caldara at times conflated the TABOR refund with the general tax refund. As I've noted, I think that was a bad move.
But that's it. Those are the only three examples (to my knowledge) of Caldara's sins. (Others have claimed that Caldara's discussion of illegal immigration was misleading, but the main issue is that the state has little say over immigration policy.) Out of the three errors, only one is serious, and even there Caldara did admit the distinction. On the two minor issues, Caldara publicly issued a correction.
Let's compare Caldara's tactics with those of the "yes" camp. Colness writes (again without giving any specific examples), that the "yes" campaign "was well run, fair, educational and had strong integrity." That's a talking point of the "yes" campaign, but it's false. And it's hard for me to see how the News can justify publishing the lopsided, insulting propaganda of Colness and Hubka, even in the letters section. Indeed, Colness's description of Caldara better describes his own letter. (I address another of Colness's claims elsewhere.) Caldara's two minor sins and his more serious one pale in comparison to the distortions and obfuscations of the "yes" camp. Unlike Colness and Hubka, I'll offer specific examples. Also unlike Colness and Hubka, I'll recognize that both camps consisted of various organizations and individuals, and so the mistakes of one should not be attributed to all.
* Both leaders of the pro-C camp and journalists subjected opponents of Referendum C to vicious ad hominem attacks, as I've written here and here. (The letters of Colness and Hubka offer additional examples.)
* Two people who work for the governor viciously slandered Paul Prentice, a respected economist who criticized Referendum C.
* The media reported the claim that, without C, the budget faced $365 million in "cuts" next year. The media often didn't mention that these "cuts" consisted mostly of anticipated increases in spending. Neither did the media report the fact that general-fund spending was already expected to increase by nearly a billion dollars over five years, without Referendum C. (I don't recall even a single such report, but certainly the fact was not adequately reported, if it was reported at all.)
* If Caldara confused the TABOR refunds and general refunds, then the advocates of Referendum C intentionally confused the difference between the tax rate and the taxes kept and spent by the state. The ballot title begins, "Without raising taxes..." If Caldara "lied" by failing to adequately point out the difference between types of refunds, then the ballot title is a much more overt lie. Again, the double standard of the "yes" camp and the media is shameful.
* The media beat up Caldara for trying to link Referendum C to funds for illegal immigrants. Yet the media gave a free pass to the advocates of Referendum C when they made the even more ridiculous claims that voting for Referendum C somehow had something to do with curbing eminent domain and supporting the troops.
* Governor Owens came out with a "hit list" of programs that would allegedly be cut if Referendum C failed. But Owens did not list the least popular, least efficient, and most wasteful programs; he listed the programs calculated to generate the greatest outcry by the "yes" camp and the media.
* Advocates of Referendum C intentionally understated the amounts of the refunds. They ignored the fact that the refunds were expected to increase over time, and they ignored the fact that the legislature could have made refund pay-outs more proportional.
* Advocates of Referendum C described the measure as a "five-year timeout," even though it increases state spending every year into the future.
Compared to the "misinformation, outright lies," etc., of the "yes" camp, Caldara's mistakes are minor. Yet the advocates of higher taxes, aided by their sycophantic media, are attempting to generate a popular myth that Caldara (and, by extension, his sympathizers) are devious and despicable, whereas the supporters of higher taxes are angels. (Disclosure: I've written a number of columns for the Independence Institute without compensation, and I wrote Wasteful Spending by Colorado Government for $2,000. I've also been invited to the Institute's annual banquet. I agree with Caldara on many issues and tactics, but I also disagree with him frequently. I don't speak for him, and he doesn't speak for me.)
The only point on which I agree with Colness is that the "no" campaign wasn't very effective compared with the "yes" campaign. The "yes" camp set the terms of the debate, successfully demonized the opposition, organized the grass-roots, and got its positive message out. The "no" camp generally set a negative tone, failed to develop a message that resonated with voters, and played defense. However, the "no" side still did fairly well, despite squandering an early lead in the polls, given that the "yes" side had the advantage of millions of dollars and the support of nearly the entire political and media establishment in Colorado. A 48 percent "no" vote in the face of the Referendum-C juggernaut is impressive.
But the suggestion that the "yes" campaign was somehow more virtuous than the "no" campaign is laughable. The advocates of C used every dirty trick in the book. That doesn't justify Caldara's relatively minor errors, but it certainly puts them in context. The smear campaign against Caldara has got to stop. Those who call him a liar, yet give a free pass to the advocates of Referendum C, merely demonstrate their own dishonesty.