This is a story about looking under the surface of things.
Bob Brancato, a Republican vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, sent us a press release several weeks ago proudly announcing the fact that former Congressman Tom Tancredo had endorsed him. In the release, Brancato talked about his support for Arizona’s new anti-immigration law, which some say encourages racial profiling.
On June 3, in our weekly snide commentary In Case You Missed It, we poked fun at Brancato for trumpeting — to voters in a predominantly Democratic district — that he had received the blessing of one of Colorado’s most notorious and extreme right-wingers. We also questioned his support of the Arizona law, not to mention his poor grammar and spelling.
Well, Brancato didn’t appreciate our intimation that he was a racial profiler, so he called us on it. A private investigator by trade, Brancato found our office and sat down to chat, in an effort to change our opinion of him.
Somewhat surprisingly, for a disgruntled reader, the Firestone resident was genuinely nice, open and honest about his concerns, and himself. We were impressed.
He said he wanted us to see him as a person, not a press release.
Not your typical Republican, either. He’s a medical marijuana supporter, because his dad died of cancer, and pot was the only thing that helped his father cope with the pain. In fact, Brancato was taking a tour of the Boulder Kind Care dispensary that week.
He explained that he supports the Arizona law primarily because he is concerned about human trafficking issues, which we could understand.
He told us he was a victim of sexual assault by a priest, something that’s not easy for anybody — especially men, it seems — to acknowledge publicly.
Oh, and he volunteers for a suicideprevention organization.
OK, now we were starting to feel guilty about taking aim at him based solely on a press release.
After our meeting, we were poised to run a follow-up ICUMI item singing his praises — or at least saying he wasn’t such a bad guy after all.
Then I read an e-mail that had been sent to us by an anonymous source, urging us to dig into his past. The person aired a laundry list of complaints about Brancato ranging from a possibly misleading statement on his website to personal information about his family to a recent arrest after a domestic disturbance at his house.
I copied the message — not including the e-mail address — and sent it to Brancato to give him the opportunity to respond. He called me, and after discussing the claims with him, I determined that all — with the possible exception of the domestic disturbance — were either dismissible or private matters that weren’t worth reporting.
So I pressed him on the domestic disturbance. I asked him to tell me about any times the police had been to his house, any times he had been cited for a legal infraction of any kind. He mentioned a few fairly innocuous incidents, including a disorderly conduct charge in Wisconsin at a New Year’s party.
I could have trusted him at his word, especially after he had been so candid with us during our meeting.
But I decided to do some due diligence and found a Firestone police report that described a Sept. 29, 2009, incident in which the cops were called to Brancato’s house on a report of a domestic disturbance. He was arrested on suspicion of false imprisonment, a charge that he and his wife say was never pursued.
Still, he had not been exactly forthcoming with me.
And I guess that is understandable.
When you are running for Congress, you don’t want information like that to get out.
But I was torn. If, indeed, no charges had been filed, should I still write about what was in that police report? If it had been your average citizen, not a public figure, probably not.
But in this case, we decided that, when people run for a public office as lofty as a Congressional delegate, they open themselves up to extreme scrutiny.
When I was interviewing Brancato and his wife so that I could include their side of the story, they told me that if I were to write about this incident, they would have to end the campaign for Congress, perhaps even leave the state.
That weighed heavily on me, and I checked myself, to make sure I wasn’t writing the story out of spite because he had been dishonest with me.
No, I was writing the story because it was newsworthy and we would have done the same with any Congressional candidate, Democrat or Republican.
Still, in his statement suspending his campaign, Brancato blamed the “liberal media” and claimed that we were jeopardizing his family’s privacy and safety.
But I feel that we did the right thing by withholding the most private information we uncovered but printing an account that included their explanation.
Even a prominent Republican friend of mine said that if we hadn’t printed something about the incident, someone else would have.
The lesson, re-learned, is to not take anything — a press release or a politician’s word — at face value.