The leading Senate Democratic super PAC is launching a digital ad campaign in Colorado aimed at Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's appearance at an invitation-only party sponsored by the makers of expensive French champagne at a Palm Beach mansion.
“While COVID-19 spread, Gardner was sitting with millionaire socialites, even after being briefed on the pandemic. Sipping $1,000 champagne with a four-course dinner and live musical performances," the ad says as photos of the February event — including arrows pointing out the back of Gardner's head — float across the screen.
After noting that a Democratic state lawmaker has filed an ethics complaint over the dinner, the ad concludes: “Call Cory Gardner and remind him he doesn’t work for the millionaires in Florida. He works for you.”
The 30-second ad for Senate Majority PAC is backed by a five-figure buy and is set to run for at least a week on Facebook and Google platforms, a spokesman for the PAC told Colorado Politics.
It's the latest salvo in an escalating battle for control of the Senate, which could hinge on the outcome of Gardner's race.
“Is a global crisis really the time to be sipping on champagne?” Matt Corridoni, a spokesman for the PAC, said in a statement. “Cory Gardner has shown time and again his loyalty is to the millionaires lining his campaign coffers and President Trump, not to his constituents. Not only has Gardner shown an incredible lack of judgment and failure of leadership here, but now he’s potentially violated ethics law, too.”
State Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, filed a complaint on April 8 with the Senate Ethics Committee alleging Gardner violated a ban on gifts over $50 by attending the bash, which was sponsored by Krug Champagne and featured performances by pianist Chloe Flower and violinist Ezinma "inspired" by flights of the sparkling beverage, including flutes of the $1,000-a-bottle Krug Clos du Mesnil 2004.
But a Gardner spokesman angrily dismissed the accusation, noting that the Gardner campaign reimbursed the dinner's sponsors weeks before Sullivan filed his complaint.
"It's disgusting to see Chuck Schumer's dark money Super PAC attempt to use a public health crisis to score political points," Jerrod Dobkin, the Gardner campaign's communications director, told Colorado Politics. "Sen. Gardner called for the first COVID-19 Congressional briefing, and has secured masks, ventilators and testing kits to save lives in Colorado."
The party — described by Town & Country as a "decadent banquet and concert" — was hosted at their new Palm Beach mansion by billionaire art collectors and past Gardner campaign donors John and Amy Phelan, a hedge fund manager and former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader who also spend time at their luxurious chalet in Aspen, where they co-chair the annual ArtCrush event.
In addition to Krug Champagne, luxury goods conglomerate LVMH — the LV stands for Louis Vuitton — owns familiar brands Dom Pérignon, Christian Dior, Bulgari and Tiffany & Co.
The Gardner campaign's quarterly FEC report shows a payment of $350 on March 15 to the New York-based LaForce Company for "food/beverage," which was how much the event sponsors told the campaign would cover the cost of the event.
The broadside against Gardner echoes a Republican attack on his leading Democratic opponent, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is facing a state ethics complaint over travel he accepted on private airplanes when he was governor.
The difference, Dobkin maintains, is that Gardner reimbursed the champagne soiree's sponsors before any ethics complaint was lodged, while Hickenlooper only did so — in some cases — after the trips were unearthed by a conservative super PAC and publicized by a group headed by leading Colorado Republicans.
Referring to a characterization of Sullivan's complaint in the Colorado Sun's political newsletter, Dobkin rejected the attack on his boss and returned fire at Hickenlooper.
"This ethics complaint has already been called 'frivolous' because the Gardner campaign complied with FEC regulations and paid for Sen. Gardner’s attendance at the event, unlike John Hickenlooper, who broke the law every time he failed to reimburse billionaires for the private jet flights he took as an elected official."
Sullivan told Colorado Politics he hasn't heard from the Senate Ethics Committee since filing the complaint, which was first reported by The Denver Post. Most senators have been absent from Washington, D.C., since voting to pass a $2.3 trillion relief bill to address the pandemic.
This story has been updated to reflect that Senate Majority PAC is spending five figures on the digital ad campaign, not four figures, as the organization initially said.