U.S. Senate hopeful Joe O’Dea took some flack for his decision to attend an NRSC fundraiser tonight in Miami alongside a trio of election deniers: Arizona’s Blake Masters, Adam Laxalt from Nevada, and Ohioan J.D. Vance. As it turns out, however, one of his biggest local donors also believes in the Big Lie.
Wendy Ferland Meritt, the wife of O’Dea’s longtime business partner Xernie Merritt, is an election fraud conspiracist who attended the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last year. Since O’Dea launched his campaign she has donated to his campaign and hosted fundraisers not only for O’Dea, but also for his fellow Republican candidate Heidi Ganahl, who is running for Governor.
Yesterday, Meritt hosted a fundraiser for Ganahl at a Denver venue owned by O’Dea. One of the two featured speakers was local conservative personality Rachel Keane, who goes by the name “Conservative Momma” online and has used her platform to promote election fraud conspiracy theories.
Back in May she and her husband co-hosted an O’Dea fundraiser in Greenwood Village.
Meritt has pushed election fraud conspiracy theories about the 2020 election on her public Twitter and Facebook accounts. These conspiracy theories have been roundly debunked by courts, election officials, and independent fact-checkers.
Meritt claimed that Barack Obama helped Joe Biden steal the 2020 presidential election, sharing one of the most extreme QAnon-linked conspiracy theories that circulated on social media: that Italian military satellites remotely flipped votes from Trump to Biden.
In subsequent comments, she claimed that Biden could not have won the number of votes he did based on the number of counties he won. That argument is based on false statistics and ignores the fact that county sizes vary by population.
In January 2021, Meritt said she had traveled to the U.S. Capitol to protest the 2020 election results.
In response to the attempted insurrection, Meritt claimed that Antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors were really the ones storming the Capitol. That statement is not true. Video evidence and eyewitness testimony have proven the rioters to be Trump supporters.
O’Dea is campaigning as a moderate Republican, a frame reflected by national news coverage. During a debate with another Republican Senate hopeful in June, O’Dea said that he was disappointed in how long it took for Trump to call off his supporters during the insurrection but did not think Trump deserved blame for causing it.
While O’Dea has consistently said Republicans should move on from the 2020 election and focus on future elections, he said he had friends at the Jan. 6 riot and preferred to call it a “rally” instead of an insurrection while answering a question at a February candidate forum in Evergreen.
“I had friends that were out at January 6, they went nowhere near the building,” O’Dea said. “That’s a rally in my opinion.”
O’Dea said he doesn’t support Trump running for president again in 2024, preferring to list Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) as an alternative. DeSantis has campaigned for avowed election deniers and criticized the Jan. 6 probe.
O’Dea himself has campaigned with election fraud conspiracists, both here in Colorado and as previously noted, tonight in Florida.
Ganahl has refused to take a definite stance on the 2020 presidential election. Her campaign to take on incumbent Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) is filled with nods to election fraud conspiracy theories and has refused to denounce unfounded claims of fraud.
Boris Epshteyn is an advisor to Ganahl’s campaign. Epshteyn is a former Trump advisor who helped concoct the plan for Trump to challenge the results of the 2020 election.
Neither O’Dea’s nor Ganahl’s campaigns responded to a request for comment before publishing. If a comment is provided this story will be updated to include it.
Earlier this month Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Joe O’Dea said that senators should look at raising the minimum age for buying an AR-15-style gun, a semiautomatic rifle often used in mass shootings, from 18 to 21.
O’Dea, speaking on KOA’s Ross Kaminsky Show, was asked if he would support raising the age.
“You know, currently those kids can enlist in the Army right now at 18,” O’Dea answered. “So I’m not sure that solves it. But, you know, that’s something if they want to look at it and enough senators get behind it, then maybe they should.”
But during an interview Sunday on Channel 2’s Colorado Point of View, O’Dea said he did not want any more gun laws to be passed and that mental health was more of a priority.
“We’ve got law after law after law on the books right now,” O’Dea said. “You cannot legislate against evil. It’s impossible. We’ve got to get the moral fabric back in our country. … At the end of the day, it’s about mental health. It’s not about putting more laws in place.”
In the interview, O’Dea said that he did not support expanded background checks, magazine capacity limits, or raising age restrictions.
Republicans repeated baseless election fraud conspiracies while advocating for amendments to a proposed election security bill in the Colorado House of Representatives Wednesday. The claims were part of a Republican filibuster that led to the hearing taking more than nine hours.
The Colorado Election Security Act would implement several measures to improve election security in the state, including prohibiting an individual from serving as an election official if they have been convicted of an election offense or conspiracy to commit sedition, insurrection, treason, or conspiracy to overthrow the government.
The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Stephen Fenberg (D-Boulder), Sen. Kevin Priola (R-Aurora), and Rep. Susan Lontine (D-Denver).
According to FEC contribution filings, Denver businessman and Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Joe O’Dea donated to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) during his 2010 campaign. O’Dea is trying to unseat Bennet this November and has been critical of the incumbent Democrat.
O’Dea also donated to U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) in 2009, giving $500 to both Perlmutter’s campaign and Bennet’s campaign. Since then, O’Dea has supported Republicans at the federal level with donations to the Republican National Committee in 2018 and 2021 and former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in 2019 and 2020.
According to reports from Colorado’s Secretary of State TRACER database, O’Dea donated to multiple Colorado politicians who identify as part of the Democratic Party at the state level. This includes donations to U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) — who unseated Gardner in 2020 — during Hickenlooper’s campaign for Governor of Colorado.
In Colorado, leading Republican figures and oil and gas industry executives are claiming stricter environmental regulations have caused gas prices to increase. However, an examination of that claim shows that it is a misleading argument.
The Argument: Enviro Regulations Cause High Gas Prices
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) blamed high gas prices on the Democratic party last week.
Kristi Burton Brown, chair of the Colorado Republican Party, tweeted last week that policies passed by the Democratic Party are responsible for high gas prices.
“In 2020 Democrats blamed President Trump and the Republicans for COVID,” Burton Brown tweeted. “And now they expect not to be blamed for record-high inflation, gas prices, and violent crime — all caused by their policies?! Laughable.”
Erik Aadland, a former executive for an oil and gas company and candidate for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, tweeted criticism towards Joe Biden last week.
“The Biden administration has done everything in its power to demonize oil and natural gas companies and de-incentivize production in the US, from killing to Keystone XL, revoking leases on federal lands and in the Gulf of Mexico and encouraging undue litigation,” Aadland tweeted.
Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, thanked Joe O’Dea, a candidate for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat, for blaming high gas prices on environmental regulations.
The Numbers Don’t Support These Claims
When taking a closer look at oil and gas production in the United States and Colorado, however, it becomes clear that complex factors, which are not influenced by Colorado laws or leaders, dwarf the impact, if any, of state environmental regulations on the price of gas.
First, oil and gas are being produced in the U.S. at a high rate. U.S. oil and gas production reached a record high in late 2019 but fell during the pandemic. Projections from oil and gas experts show that domestic production should still surpass that 2019 high by early 2023.
It should also be noted that there are over 9,000 approved oil and gas permits on public lands in the U.S. and just under 3,000 approved permits in Colorado ready to be drilled. And private drilling has not been maximized.
These permits — both in Colorado and nationwide — are not being used primarily because of pressure from Wall Street oil investors to restrain how much they drill and prioritize shareholder earnings over oil production.
The argument that Democratic policies have limited opportunity for drilling in the U.S. falls short when you look at the actions of Democratic political leaders. Joe Biden approved more permits in his first year in office than any other President, topping Donald Trump’s record.
Ignoring the fact that thousands of drilling permits are unused, industry representatives across the U.S. claim environmental regulations — like the ones in place in Colorado — limit drilling. It’s true that limits exist for environmental and safety reasons.
But in Colorado, Republican and industry officials who’ve responded to the Ukrainian war by saying they want to loosen drilling limits don’t specify which regulations they want rescinded and the resultant risks and hazards they believe are tolerable.
For example, the denied oil and gas permit referenced earlier was rejected by Colorado’s oil and gas commission because it was within 2,000 feet of a home or school.
In fact, arguments from the oil and gas industry and Republicans often ignore the larger context of the disastrous effect large-scale oil and gas production has on global warming in the long term and the health of individuals in the short term.
Over the past week, oil prices per barrel have actually decreased over the past week due to COVID-related lockdowns in China. However, gas prices are remaining high.
According to oil and gas industry experts, the primary reasons for gas price increases are the COVID-19 pandemic and global supply chain issues, along with oil producers taking advantage of a global supply crunch in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Colorado Enviro Groups Respond
Environmental advocacy groups took issue with the claim that environmental regulations have caused gas prices to increase.
Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, deputy director of the Colorado League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC), an environmental advocacy group that focuses on those impacted by the negative environmental effects of oil and gas production, pointed to the high oil and gas production in the U.S. and the high amounts of approved drilling leases in Colorado as evidence the industry is making misleading claims.
“I think it’s really, really important for people to know that oil and gas development in Colorado happens at the whim of the operator,” Forkes-Gudmundson said. “They have so many permits they could be drilling. If they wanted to drill more, they absolutely could. They just don’t. And that’s because these companies are profiting grossly off of this crisis. Gas prices are up and they like making money.”
Forkes-Gudmundson rejected the idea that environmental regulations are causing the high gas prices to remain high in the U.S.
“If you want to blame somebody for high gas prices you should blame Putin and the oil industry,” Forkes-Gudmundson said. “That’s it. Regulations have nothing to do with it.”
Kate Christensen is the oil and gas campaign director for 350 Colorado, an environmental advocacy group hoping to limit fossil fuel production in the state. Christensen explained that the biggest oil giants made $205 billion last year.
“I would argue that, rather than hurting oil and gas companies, the Biden administration is giving some massive, supportive handouts to the oil and methane industry,” Christensen said. “They just gave billions of dollars of taxpayer money to pay to clean up abandoned oil and gas infrastructure.”
Biden’s infrastructure bill allocated $4.7 billion to help clean up orphaned oil and gas wells across the country. In January, Colorado requested $25 million of that funding.
“Given the massively great year that industry had last year and is having this year, it seems like they should be able to pay to clean up after themselves, rather than have taxpayers do it,” Christensen said. “It’s another example of oil and gas profiteering off of average consumers, just like the rising gas prices.”
As an example of how Colorado has been overly fair to the oil and gas industry, despite industry talking points, Christensen referenced Polis’ Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Roadmap. The plan was criticized by Colorado environmental groups last year for being too lenient on oil and gas operators.
“Polis is also super supportive of oil and gas. His plan for reducing greenhouse gases includes increasing oil and gas production in the state through 2030. It makes no sense, from a climate perspective.”
Christensen, like Forkes-Gudmundson, flat-out rejected claims that environmental regulations were to blame for high gas prices.
“I wish the oil and gas industry and some politicians were correct,” Christensen said. “I wish that our government’s policies were reigning in oil and gas companies so much that they reduced production and we quit burning so many fossil fuels. For our planet to survive we need to phase out fossil fuel production as quickly as possible. That’s the science. But that is not what is actually happening, no matter what the industry wants to pretend. When CEOs and shareholders have to take pay cuts rather than get massive bonuses — that’ when I’ll believe any regulation could possibly be impacting the industry.”
“This is not about Republican and Democrat,” Mesa County, Colorado, Clerk Tina Peters told the audience of election conspiracists. “They try to make it so it seems they’re dividing one party against the other, but it’s not that at all. It’s the globalists who have their thumb on the scales. … So it’s important for us to bring everybody into the fold to let them know what’s going on.”
Peters, a Republican, is under federal investigation for election-related charges and is also running for Secretary of State. She and other election fraud conspiracists in the Colorado Republican Party gathered in Colorado Springs Saturday for an all-day celebration of the Big Lie.
Billed as the Colorado Election Integrity 2.0 Hearing, the event featured numerous in-person and remote speakers, including Peters, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and members of the Colorado-based conspiracy group U.S. Election Integrity Plan (USEIP), and its new Lindell-funded national counterpart, Cause of America.
State Rep. Ron Hanks (R-Cañon City), who is running for U.S. Senate, served as emcee.
All of the speakers believe some version of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Trump via a massive conspiracy involving Democrats, China, “deep state” bureaucrats, and election machine company Dominion Voting Systems.
The nearly five-hour event took place in Colorado Springs at Fervent Church, a ministry led by Pastor Garrett Graupner, who also heads the “Faith” pillar of FEC United, a far-right conspiracist group with militia division. The event was planned for Denver, but moved to Colorado Springs after Central Christian Church, which had initially agreed to host the conspiracists, backed out.
According to Hanks, Central Christian Church cited security concerns for its decision not to host the event, though on Telegram, FEC United leader Joe Oltmann blamed 9News’ press inquiry to the church, calling it “bullying.”
It’s unclear if the last-minute change of venue prevented Trump attorney and former University of Colorado visiting professor John Eastman, author of the infamous “coup memo,” from participating. Neither he nor Arizona state Rep. Mick Finchem, both of who were listed as featured speakers, appeared.
Finchem’s absence was also notable because he’s part of another group that organized the event, Conservatives for Election Integrity, a political action committee led by Nevada state assemblyman and SOS candidate Jim Marchant.
CFEIPAC supports a slate of election conspiracist candidates for Secretary of State in several states, including Colorado. These “America First” SOS candidates, including Colorado’s relatively unknown Dave Winney, are running on a platform of “election integrity” based almost exclusively on the Big Lie conspiracy.
Maurice Emmer, a non-practicing attorney and conservative gadfly from Aspen kicked off the morning session. Emmer provided an update on Hanks v. Griswold, a lawsuit filed by Hanks, Douglas County Clerk Merlin Klotz, Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder, and a few county commissioners, demanding an independent forensic audit of Colorado’s 2020 election results, a la the discredited Arizona “fraudit.” (Hanks has dropped his name from the lawsuit, though he still supports it.)
The legal filing, which is based on USEIP conspiracy theorists’ unsubstantiated allegations, has resulted in a counter-suit by the SOS against Clerk Schroeder. In an affidavit he submitted with the lawsuit, Schroeder admitted to making a copy of his county’s election data with the help of USEIP’s Shawn Smith, and then giving it to an unnamed attorney.
(The Big Lie litmus test – Promoted by Colorado Pols)
At the annual Colorado GOP Awards Banquet, held last month in Pueblo, the state party gave its top awards to Republicans who have fostered debunked conspiracy theories about how the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.
Also in attendance at the banquet were former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado GOP Chair Kristi Burton Brown, and current candidate for Governor Heidi Ganahl.