UPDATE: Story now up at national progressive political blogs ThinkProgress and Huffington Post.
A very important update today to the story we've been following of attack mailers sent into Mesa and La Plata counties this past weekend, going after Republican clerks for their support for House Bill 1303–the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act modernizing election procedures and solving problems that have arisen with the growing use of mail ballots in Colorado elections.
Junction Daily Blog first reported the existence of these mailings on Saturday, and their return address matching that of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler's former law firm, the Hackstaff Law Group (formerly Hackstaff Gessler). By Sunday, a Colorado Pols reader had discovered that one of the main images in this mailing, a photo of a line of voters, had been digitally altered or "Photoshopped" to remove African-American faces from the original photo. The combination of the over-the-top hysterics in the mailer's content–"even the deceased could cast ballots!"–and the very nasty racist implications in removing black faces from a photo being sent to a 99% white locality have turned this mailer into a significant, and most embarrassing, complication for Secretary Gessler and his efforts against House Bill 1303. Yesterday, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) condemned the mailers, and called on Gessler to denounce them.
That's where the Durango Herald's Joe Hanel picks up the story today, filling in must-read details:
The mailer digitally altered a picture to remove black people from a photo of voters standing in line, but the company that designed it said it was trying to make a point about voter fraud, not race…
As a nonprofit, Citizens for Free and Fair Elections does not have to reveal its donors. Its 2010 and 2011 tax forms list Bill Ray, a Republican political consultant, as the executive director.
Ray said Gessler had no part in putting together the flier.
Ray said the firm that printed and designed the flier, Wizbang Solutions, altered the photo without knowledge or permission of anyone at Citizens for Free and Fair Elections.
“We neither approved nor asked for any Photoshopping to be done to the photo,” Ray said.
A Wizbang employee named “Mike,” who would not give his last name, read a statement from the company to the Herald: “Wizbang Solutions, in an effort to underscore the theme of voter fraud, edited a stock photo. Our actions were merely to provide a visual context of the same person waiting in line to vote. Any assertions that the editing was for any other purpose is political folly and takes away from the subtle undertone intended by our artist.” [Pols emphasis]
It has been erroneously reported that the group Citizens for Free and Fair Elections was unregistered with the state. In fact the group has existed for several years. Bill Ray, identified as the group's director in today's story, is the former communications director of the Colorado Republican Party, serving in that capacity under former Chairman Ted Halaby. Ray's company WR Communications boasts a large roster of clients including CenturyLink, Pfizer, and the Colorado Rural Electric Association.
And folks, above all, this is no anonymous crackpot. This mailer was produced by a fixture of Republican politics in Colorado, using the state's foremost GOP law firm as a return address. Ray's role, along with that of Hackstaff Law Group, amounts to plain complicity within the GOP establishment in this campaign against fellow Republican county clerks. In every meaningful way, his identity closes the loop on what is happening. Does it prove Bill Ray personally sat down with Scott Gessler and planned this mailing? No. But at a certain level, as everyone not being willfully naive knows, that doesn't matter.
When you put together these players on any chart, they form a single team.
As for the "marketing geniuses" at Commerce City-based Wizbang Solutions, they have possibly offered up the most pathetic excuse for their obvious racist intent in editing out African-American faces from this mailing that we have ever heard from anyone about anything. This is, like Ray, a company with some prestigious clients who are most unlikely to approve of what was done here–no matter who "asked for" these edits. And please, folks. It's absurd for them to suggest anything other than a racist motive for editing the photo in question. Their feeble excuse for one such alteration doesn't explain the removal, for example, of the African-American man standing behind the first black person they edited out. It is absolutely, irrevocably undeniable what the "subtle undertone" was in editing out the black faces (plural) from this photo, and their ridiculous excuses only make it worse for them.
Today's excellent reporting by Joe Hanel doesn't answer all the questions by any stretch, nor do these denials from Ray and/or his marketing consultants, which raise more questions than they answer.
But if there's any justice, heads in upper Colorado conservative circles need to roll.