updated 7/13/2010 3:52:53 PM ET 2010-07-13T19:52:53

Republican Scott McInnis offered private apologies Tuesday to a Colorado judge for lifting part of the judge's work for a series of essays on water rights that the gubernatorial candidate passed off as his own.

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McInnis had no immediate plans for a public apology after revelations of the plagiarism in essays that he was paid $300,000 to write as part of a fellowship. McInnis spokesman Sean Duffy called it "a serious mistake" and blamed a research assistant for failing to cite the original author, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs.

"It was completely regrettable and should have been footnoted," Duffy said.

Whole sections of McInnis' "Musings On Water" about the history of Colorado water rights were identical to a 1984 piece that Hobbs wrote. McInnis' essays were accompanied by a 2005 letter stating the essays were original.

The Denver Post and KMGH-TV first reported the plagiarism Monday.

Colorado Republicans were divided on how the flap would affect the primary, but McInnis wouldn't be the first politician possibly undone by plagiarism.

Earlier this year, Idaho Republican Vaughn Ward lost a congressional primary after being accused of ripping off position statements on his website from other Republican candidates. In 1987, Vice President Joe Biden saw his first presidential campaign wilt after he acknowledged plagiarizing a British politician's campaign speeches.

Duffy said McInnis, a former member of Congress, was also calling to offer apologies to a foundation that paid him $300,000 to write the water essays. In a statement, the chairwoman of the Hasan Family Foundation, Seeme Hasan, said the group may seek a refund.

"I am shocked, angry and disappointed," Hasan said. She said the foundation wasn't even aware McInnis was using an assistant to write the water essays.

"The Hasan Family Foundation takes the issue of plagiarism extremely seriously," Hasan wrote. "We will conduct an independent, internal investigation and if the allegations are proven to be true, we will demand Mr. McInnis return all monies paid to him."

McInnis left Congress in 2004 and was paid $300,000 for a three-year fellowship with the right-leaning educational foundation. The fellowship called for McInnis to write about water, and when McInnis' work for the foundation was questioned by reporters this year, the Hasan group posted the "Musings On Water" essays on its website. The writings were not previously made public.

McInnis' Republican primary opponent, businessman Dan Maes, faulted McInnis for blaming a research assistant.

"You can't point fingers, you can't blame others, you have to take responsibility for something you put your name on and take $300,000 for," Maes said.

The same day McInnis' plagiarism was reported, Maes agreed to pay a $17,500 fine for campaign finance violations, including improper mileage reimbursement.

Maes supporters seized on the McInnis plagiarism.

"He's not always above board, that's what it says to me," said Lu Busse of Larkspur, a 912 Project volunteer.

Others weren't so sure.

"I just feel like between the two of them, they're stumbling to see who's not going to lose," said Nathan Hatcher, a suburban Denver Republican activist who backs McInnis.

The winner of the Aug. 10 primary will face Democrat John Hickenlooper. The Denver mayor has no primary competition.

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