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2 weeks, nearly $17.5M: Who’s contributing to Colorado campaigns?

Author: Marianne Goodland - September 19, 2018 - Updated: October 8, 2018

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The checkbooks are wide open in the oil and gas industry, which poured nearly $7.9 million over a two-week period alone into its main committee for influencing the vote on two Colorado ballot measures for November.

All told, nearly $17.5 million flowed into campaign committees from Aug. 30 to Sept. 12.

Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy, aka Protect Colorado, raked in the big bucks for the most recent reporting period, according to a check of the Secretary of State’s TRACER campaign finance system. Almost $4 million of that came from the Colorado Petroleum Council, an industry-backed association which doesn’t have to report its donors.

Since Jan. 1, Protect Colorado has taken in $28.6 million and is backing Amendment 74, a measure on private property rights seen as friendly to oil and gas development, and fighting Proposition 112, a measure to greatly increase the buffer zone between energy development sites and homes.

The independent expenditure committee spent $3.5 million in between Aug. 30 and Sept. 12, almost all of it on advertising. That includes ads on behalf of the Committee for Colorado’s Shared Heritage, which is backing Amendment 74.

But the largest single contribution in the most recent reporting period belongs to the Republican Governors Association, which put another $1.6 million into its political action committee that is backing Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Treasurer Walker Stapleton. The RGA has now raised $2.9 million.

Another independent expenditure committee (IEC) backing Stapleton, Better Colorado Now, took in $600,000 in the last two weeks, bringing its total to $2.5 million. Its biggest donor between Aug. 30 and Sept. 12 is the “Colorado Taxpayers’ Advocate Fund,” run by Denver attorney John Zakhem, who has operated campaign committees in the past that back Republican candidates and causes. The fund, a 501(c)4 “social welfare organization,” does not disclose its donors.

A third independent expenditure committee supporting Stapleton, the Colorado Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity, took in a $450,000 contribution from the Workforce Fairness Institute, which, according to SourceWatch, is an anti-union organization backed by Neil Golub of New York, who owns a northeastern supermarket chain. The campaign committee, which is based in Massachusettes, has now raised $810,000, all of it from the institute.

Good Jobs Colorado, which is backing Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, reported $1.42 million in donations in the most recent reporting period. Its largest contributor was the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which gave $920,000 to the IEC. Good Jobs has now raised $2.86 million.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund is also the major funder of Proposition 111, which will ask voters in November to put a 36 percent limit on interest and fees on payday loans. According to Influence Watch, the fund’s CEO is Eric Kessler, a former Clinton administration environmental policy staffer. Its major donors, according to the conservative blog Washington Free Beacon, are labor unions and the National Education Association.

Colorado Fair Share Action, another IEC backing Polis, took in $304,000, bringing its total to $608,000. Its major donor: Colorado Fair Share Action, a super PAC started by Colorado software mogul Tim Gill in 2012 to back Democratic candidates. The PAC also has taken in contributions in the past from environmental and education groups according to OpenSecrets.org, run by the nonpartisan nonprofit research group Center for Responsive Politics.

Polis also added another $200,000 to his gubernatorial campaign, bringing his total contributions to more than $18.5 million.

The Colorado Freedom IEC reported a $465,550 contribution from the Republican Attorneys General Association. The committee supports Republican attorney general candidate George Brauchler and has raised a total of $1.5 million.

The campaign committee backing Proposition 110, which seeks to hike the state sales tax to raise money for transportation, reported a $354,000 donation from the National Association of Realtors. Coloradans for Coloradans has now raised $4.5 million to promote the ballot measure.

The Senate Majority Fund IEC, which backs Republican candidates for the state Senate, also took in $766,000 between Aug. 30 and Sept. 12 from the Senate Majority Fund, the group’s 527 political committees. The latter took in $269,000 in the most recent reporting period, including a $50,000 donation from Highpoint Operating Corp., a subsidiary of the energy company Bill Barrett Corp. Another $50,000 came in from Farmers Insurance and $45,000 from the Colorado Apartment Association.

The referred ballot measures from the General Assembly dealing with the method for redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries, propositions Y and Z, is backed by Fair Maps Colorado and a $200,000 contribution in the most recent reporting period from the National Education Association. The Fair Maps IEC has now raised $2.46 million for the November election.

Finally, Democrats for Education Reform and its funding arm, Education Reform Now Advocacy, has now kicked in $820,000 this year to back Democrats for the General Assembly, including $300,000 in the last two weeks to two IECs: Our Colorado Values (House) and Coloradans for Fairness (Senate).

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.