(Updated November 2, 2016).
Recent campaign finance disclosures make clear what many have been speculating for a while now: the oil and gas industry is the driving force behind the ballot initiative that would make it harder for Colorado citizens to amend their own state constitution. Watergate’s “Deep Throat” informant taught Americans to follow the money, and in our new analysis, we did just that. We discovered that the paper trail of support for the “Raise the Bar” initiative leads directly to oil and gas companies and their front groups, and that oil and gas is by far the biggest financial backer of Raise the Bar.
At issue is Amendment 71, which would require 55 percent of voters to approve an initiative (rather than the current standard of 50 percent plus one). It would also force organizers to get petition signatures from two percent of voters in every state Senate district in order to get the measure on the ballot (the law currently stipulates that they must get five percent of the number of people who voted in the last election statewide).
Experts note that this would cost proponents of future ballot initiatives millions of dollars to run a campaign to put a measure on the ballot — prohibitively expensive for all but the biggest business interests. Recent citizen-led efforts to pass initiatives to regulate oil and gas activity are perhaps why the oil and gas industry is so interested in this change.
Our new analysis shows that as of the most recently available campaign finance documents, the oil and gas industry has given $3,729,190.00 of the $4,854,075.50 in contributions that the official Raise the Bar Issue Committee has received. That’s 77 percent of the contributions, making it the largest sponsor of the initiative (the remainder being real estate, banks, investment companies, and others). Click here to see the data.
What’s particularly galling is that despite the fact that this is so obviously a corporate-funded campaign, the proponents are attempting to cloak it in a grassroots veneer. Take, for example, the fact that proponents are using mass-printed envelopes that look like they were written and signed by “your neighbor.” Here’s a 7News story with more details:
Back to the contributions to the Raise the Bar issue committee– the majority of the contributions from several large donations that a group called “Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy” gave on September 8th, September 16th, and October 21st. This is an oil and gas front group supported by millions of dollars in from Anadarko and Noble Energy, two out-of-state oil companies. It has played a major role in oil and gas issues in Colorado since its establishment in 2014, with one of its major accomplishments being a campaign to keep two measures to strengthen restrictions on oil and gas drilling off the ballot earlier this year. And the group recently wrote that being able to stop commonsense oil and gas measures is one of the three top reasons to support Amendment 71.
Importantly, our analysis does not include the additional money that Protecting Colorado is spending directly on Amendment 71 (rather than giving it to the “Raise the Bar” Issue Committee). Protecting Colorado has spent millions of dollars on the fracking initiatives but has changed its primary purpose to include support of Amendment 71.
In another twist, it is worth noting that Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development — the oil and gas “education” organization that runs seemingly non-stop advertisements about the benefits of fracking — has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Protecting Colorado thus far this year.
A number of important policy changes have been enacted by citizens in Colorado with use of ballot measures, from minimum wage laws to marijuana legalization. There are already numerous “checks” in place to ensure policy proposals are supported by voters from across the state, including the very vote on the ballot on election day.
In the end, as the Denver Post put it, “citizens liberal, moderate and conservative would soon come to hate” the provisions of Amendment 71. The interests that are for restricting the rights of citizens to change their own constitution are the same ones who would have the money and resources to change it in the future — and that’s just not right. That’s why a huge coalition— including Democrats, Republicans, unions, teachers, environmentalists, Latino groups, the NAACP, and the ACLU– have come together to defeat this amendment.
We will update this post as more campaign finance data become available.