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If you’ve been curious about what this Research & Democracy thing is all about, or if you were looking for more information on The Trailhead Group, you could go to two websites to find out more information. Neither of them, however, would give you more than a partisan attack version of the truth.

Before we get to that, let’s catch up on what we do know, so you understand why the faux sites appear in the manner in which they do.

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Research & Democracy is the name of an organization that paid for constituent mailings for several Democratic legislators, though none of the legislators say they know who funded the group. Republicans have repeatedly demanded to know who is behind Research & Democracy, but nobody is giving up the goods.

The Trailhead Group is a 527 political committee organized by Gov. Bill Owens, Pete Coors and oil baron Bruce Benson as a means of advocating for Republican candidates and issues that the group supports (a 527 is a political committee with no contribution limits. A 527 isn’t technically allowed to coordinate with a campaign or a candidate and can’t specifically advocate that you vote for or against someone or something). The Trailhead Group has already paid for radio ads for state treasurer candidate Mark Hillman and has funded robo-calls into the house districts of Democrats whose office accounts received money from Research & Democracy. According to the Rocky Mountain News:

In all, Trailhead last year collected nearly $350,000 from nine donors. Owens did not donate, but Benson’s company contributed $25,000. Asked about why he got involved, Pete Coors said Tuesday he considered Trailhead, which is known as a 527 political committee, “a defensive mechanism.”

“There are some very wealthy Democrats who spent literally millions of dollars in the last election cycle using 527s very effectively,” he said.

Coors said part of the problem is campaign finance laws make it difficult for candidates to raise money or spread their message, so politicos turn to 527s, which are named after a section of the federal tax code. The political committees can raise unlimited money. “I don’t particularly care for the system, but that’s the system we have,” Coors said.

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Trailhead’s executive director, Alan Philp, said the group is committed to saving Colorado from a Democratic agenda.

Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over this whole mess, with Republicans attacking Democrats for accepting money into their office accounts from Research & Democracy, and Democrats attacking Republicans for using The Trailhead Group to do dirty robo-calls into targeted Democratic districts. As the Rocky Mountain News elaborates:

Did not, did so.

You started it. No, you did.

I’m telling!

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And so goes another day at the Colorado legislature over the issue that kicked off an ethics battle this year: the identity of the donors to the mystery group Research and Democracy, which paid for mailings for 10 Democratic House members…

…House Majority Leader Alice Madden accused a Republican political group headed by Alan Philp, the former state GOP director, of making “robo” calls – automated, prerecorded mass phone calls – criticizing the 10 Democrats. Madden said the calls “contain blatant lies that are criminal in nature.”

But [Alan] Philp, head of Trailhead Group, said, “Those calls are completely accurate.”

To which Madden responded: “Alan is full of poop.”

Yes, it’s all very clever, which brings us back to the title of this post: Internet Politics. How do you get out your message on an issue like this? Why, you create a Web site, of course.

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ResearchAndDemocracy.com is a Web site created to criticize Democrats whose office accounts received contributions from Research & Democracy. Not to be outdone, TrailheadGroup.net is a site created to attack the donors to The Trailhead Group. Both Web sites are biased against the group whose name appears in the URL, and both are clever attempts to spin the issue. Of the two, TrailheadGroup.net is more well done, while ResearchAndDemocracy.com takes more of a silly approach in addressing the controversy.

So, if you’re interested in finding out more about this controversy, go online and do a search of the two organizations. Just don’t trust everything you find.

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