A researcher whom Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis blamed for plagiarism allegations said Wednesday he won't sign a letter from the campaign owning up to what happened because he claims McInnis is lying.
The claim by 82-year-old Rolly Fischer is the latest to plague McInnis after the plagiarism allegations against him surfaced this week. Fischer told KMGH-TV that McInnis' campaign sent him a letter to sign in which Fischer would say the alleged plagiarism was his fault.
"This mistake was solely my own, and I recognize that my work fell short of the expectations you had when you included me in this project," read the letter Fischer provided to KMGH.
The work Fischer was referring to was a series of allegedly plagiarized essays on water rights that McInnis passed off as his own in 2005. Fischer said he provided work to McInnis but claimed he didn't know McInnis planned to submit the work as his own.
McInnis spokesman Sean Duffy said Fischer previously acknowledged to McInnis and his staff that what happened was his fault.
"Rolly's comments (to KMGH) don't reflect the conversations that I and other members of the staff and Scott had with him over the last two days," he said.
Duffy said that Fischer apologized to McInnis for the plagiarism allegations that had surfaced and he had explained that the research he provided to the campaign was "in the public domain."
"In his mind, he thought that was free for the taking," Duffy said.
McInnis has spent the week brushing off the plagiarism allegations as a minor issue, even as calls escalated for him to own up to his mistakes and pay back $300,000 he received to write the essays. McInnis said he takes the allegations seriously, but doesn't believe voters will hold it against him.
"The issue most people are concerned about now is family, jobs, the economy. That's going to be the issue," McInnis said.
The Denver Post and KMGH-TV first reported the plagiarism allegations on the water essays on Monday. Then on Wednesday, The Denver Post reported that a 1994 column McInnis wrote for the now-closed Rocky Mountain News in Denver resembled an Op-Ed published in The Washington Post by Richard V. Allen and Daryl M. Plunk. Allen and Plunk's piece was published Nov. 9, 1994. McInnis' was published Dec. 21, 1994, when he was a Colorado congressman.
The revelations sparked demands from Democrats that McInnis drop out of the race, and The Post called the candidate's actions "intellectual thievery" and said he should end his candidacy.
Dan Maes, McInnis' opponent in the August primary, stopped short of asking McInnis to bow out — though he said if plagiarism appears to be chronic, that's another matter.
"He's trying to put the blame on others. If you don't take responsibility on your watch, it says something about your character," Maes said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper did not respond to a request for comment. The Denver mayor has no primary competition.
McInnis said he relied on others for his materials in both cases, but he should have reviewed them more carefully.
"I should have had experts checking the experts," he said.
In one passage, Allen and Plunk wrote, "There is a growing popular belief in South Korea that the North has outmaneuvered Washington and marginalized the South's role."
McInnis column said, "There is growing South Korean sentiment that North Korea has outmaneuvered Washington and marginalized the South's input into this issue."
McInnis said he isn't sure who on his staff wrote the column and a speech he later delivered on the House floor that also resembled the Washington Post Op-Ed.
"In Congress, you have lots of staff. I had hundreds of pages a day go out of my congressional office with my signature on it. We have no idea of the base material," McInnis said. "Of course I had assistants writing that."
Plunk told KHOW-AM in an interview Wednesday that he collaborated with then-congressman McInnis' office on the piece about Korea and that he didn't consider it plagiarism.
"He had permission to use my work," said Plunk, who described himself as a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a business consultant. "It was a flow of ideas. That's how I would have put it.
"I gave my words to them," said Plunk, who noted he hadn't spoken to McInnis in years, or since McInnis left Washington.
On the water essay, whole sections of McInnis' "Musings On Water" about the history of Colorado water rights were identical to a 1984 article written by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs. McInnis' essays were accompanied by a 2005 letter stating the essays were original.
Fischer told KMGH that he won't sign the letter the campaign sent him, and said McInnis lying with his explanation about how the plagiarism occurred. Fischer said he thought the materials he was providing McInnis would be "for his own inventory" and that he didn't know McInnis was working for a foundation and planned to publish what Fischer gave him.
"I did not know that he intended to submit that as his personal work," Fischer said.
Duffy, the McInnis spokesman, said the campaign provided draft language of an apology letter to Fischer, but only because he requested it.
"He's now acting like it was a demand," Duffy said. "It was not."
McInnis said he will meet with a foundation that paid him $300,000 for the water articles to see if they want a refund. He said he worked for two years on the project and also gave speeches to earn his fee.
McInnis said he can't guarantee that there are no more plagiarized materials because he spent decades in public office.
Colorado political consultant Floyd Ciruli said voters see plagiarism as a character issue, and it can affect the outcome of elections.
Earlier this year, Idaho Republican Vaughn Ward lost a congressional primary after being accused of lifting position statements from other Republican candidates. In 1987, Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged plagiarizing a British politician's campaign speeches, hurting his presidential aspirations.
Allegations that President Barack Obama borrowed parts of a campaign speech by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, however, had little impact.