DENVER — A Colorado gubernatorial candidate brushed off allegations of plagiarism as a minor issue Wednesday, even as calls escalated for him to own up to his mistakes and pay back $300,000 he received to write a series of essays he passed off as his own.
Republican Scott McInnis blamed employees in both cases, one in 1994 and another in 2005. He 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.
But the revelations sparked demands from Democrats that McInnis drop out of the race, and The Denver Post, which first reported the similarities between McInnis' work and previous articles, 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, but he should have reviewed them more carefully.
"I should have had experts checking the experts," he said.
The new questions center on a column McInnis wrote for the now-closed Rocky Mountain News in Denver when McInnis was a Colorado congressman.
The column and a speech McInnis made later on the floor of the House included at least three passages that used some of the same words as 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, and he made the speech on Jan. 25, 1995.
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 speech.
"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.
McInnis had apologized Tuesday for another instance of apparent plagiarism. 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.
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 if they do want a refund, he will repay it with his own money and won't use campaign funds.
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.
John Foster, campaign manager for Democratic opponent Walt Minnick, said he believes the plagiarism allegations had an impact on the Idaho primary.
"Issues are important, but so are character and background," Foster said.