Colorado flag money spending financing

Now that all the signatures for initiatives that intend to be on the November ballot have been turned in, issue committees supporting or opposing those ballot measures will next turn to voter persuasion.

Here’s a look at the issue committees on both sides, who’s funding those campaigns and a first look at who’s getting ready to spend on advertising in the fall.

Seven ballot measures have already qualified for the November election. That includes three referred by the General Assembly. Official initiative numbers for the ballot won't be decided by the Secretary of State's office until 60 days before the election, to give proponents time to withdraw their measures.

Ballot measure to repeal Senate Bill 19-042, known as National Popular Vote

To date, those backing the Senate bill have far outraised those who put the measure on the ballot, but most of the money in favor of National Popular Vote is coming from out-of-state donors.

Three issue committees are backing National Popular Vote: Coloradans for National Popular Vote, Conservatives for Yes on National Popular Vote and Yes on National Popular Vote.

The first two have not raised much. Coloradans for NPV lists a total of $6,125, all of it in 2019. Conservatives for Yes on NPV has drawn $115,101, with its largest contributions coming from the Domestic Policies Caucus, which is tied to a Republican operative in Minnesota, Patrick Rosenstiel. He’s a member of the Federalist Society and head of a PR firm, Aisnley Shea. Rosenstiel was part of the effort to push for confirmation of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

Despite the name, Conservatives for Yes on National Popular Vote have yet to win a single endorsement from any prominent Republican in Colorado. The committee did not return a request for comment.

Conservatives for Yes on NPV have spent $42,091 on Ainsley Shea, the PR firm run by Rosenstiel. Yes on National Popular Vote, the larger of the two committees backing the ballot measure, has paid Ainsley Shea $111,392.

Yes on NPV has been the big backer. The committee has raised $3,669,868. In the most recent reporting period of June 25 to July 27, and based on records from TRACER, the Secretary of State’s campaign finance database, the committee received $569,816.

Top donors in the period include Sage Weil ($250,000), CEO of Red Hat, Madison, Wisconsin; and $155,528 from Josh Jones of Santa Monica, CA, co-founder of DreamHost, a web hosting company. Jones has now kicked in more than $667,000 to the campaign.

The dark money liberal group Sixteen Thirty Fund also kicked in $36,000 in non-monetary support during this reporting period. Sixteen Thirty is paying for polling on NPV and has contributed $86,000 in non-monetary support for that effort.

Of the top 50 donors to Yes on NPV throughout the 2019-20 election cycle, not one has been from Colorado. The most notable contribution from a Coloradan is $500, a July 22 donation from Democratic Speaker of the House KC Becker of Boulder.

Spending by Yes on NPV indicates its about to ramp up advertising for the fall. Since July 1, the committee has spent $514,101 on advertising through Bluewest Media, Facebook and Authentic Campaigns of Washington, D.C., which handles digital acquisitions.

Two committees are backing the repeal of SB 19-042: Conservatives Vote No on NPV, which has to date raised only $155 in non-monetary support; and Protect Colorado’s Vote, which has raised $457,530. In the June 25 to July 27 reporting period, the committee has pulled in $86,805, with the largest contribution of $50,000 from CL Machinery of Denver.

Its largest expenditures since June 25 have been for consultants, including EIS Solutions and The Starboard Group. The committee’s largest expenditures to date were a year ago, to get the measure on the ballot.

Initiative 107: reintroduction of gray wolves into Colorado

The biggest dollars on this initiative have gone toward those backing the measure, with the lead taken by Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund. The committee has raised $1,668,362 as of July 27. Its biggest donors have been from out-of-state supporters, including the TIDES Center of San Francisco. Influence Watch reports the TIDES Center backs left-of-center projects, with substantial funding coming from left-of-center foundations such as Open Society (founded by billionaire George Soros), the WK Kellogg Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Defenders of Wildlife has contributed $275,600 and tech entrepreneur Timothy Ferriss of Texas has donated $122,500.

On its spending side, the committee has sent checks totaling $1,542,217 to consultants, campaign compliance and lawyers.

Boulder Strategies, a marketing firm, has been paid $189,548. The law firm of Recht Kornfeld, which includes the go-to lawyer for Democrats, Mark Grueskin, has been paid $28,720.

The biggest expenditure by Rocky Mountain Wolf Acton has been to Landslide Political. Formerly known as Grassroots Utah Strategies, Landslide has been paid more than $2 million in the 2019-20 election cycle. More than $1.122 million is from the wolf action fund for signature gathering, but the consulting company also is working with the committee promoting the tobacco tax ballot initiative #292, as well as the committee that supported the failed ballot measure Fair Tax Colorado. They also worked on signature gathering for Democratic U.S. Sen. candidate and former Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Landslide is run by Bob Kubichek, a one time statewide director for the Obama for America campaign in 2012.

On the anti-wolf side, Coloradans Protecting Wildlife has been the biggest funder.

The committee has so far raised $340,740 including non-monetary contributions, and spent $164,968.

The biggest donors to the effort to defeat #107 has been Colorado Farm Bureau and local farm bureaus around the state, and Safari Club International, a hunters’ organization. Safari Club, both its national office and Colorado chapter, have kicked in $106,800, including $50,000 on July 1. Notably, both the Utah and Washington state farm bureaus also have kicked in donations.

The committee’s largest spending in the past month has been for polling, done by Pac/West of Wilsonville, Oregon.

Stop the Wolf PAC has raised $47,878, including recent donations from state Sens. Bob Rankin of Carbondale and Larry Crowder of Alamosa.

The committee has spent $10,000 on advertising, but that was three months ago. Its most recent expenditures have been for fundraising and campaign compliance.

Initiative 120 on the fall ballot asks voters to ban abortions after 22 weeks. The measure exempts abortions to save the life of the woman but no such exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

The fundraising has largely gone to those opposing the initiative. 

Abortion Access for All has been the biggest fundraiser, with $603,906 in donations, and it's spent $329,200.

Its largest donor to date has been COBALT, formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League, which has donated $210,000, with $150,000 in the last month. The committee appears to be gearing up for advertising; it took in more than $443,000 in the most recent reporting cycle. The committee is also getting big dollar support from Planned Parenthood chapters across the country, Americans for Civil Liberties Union, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity & Reproductive Rights, the Interfaith Alliance and New Era Colorado.

The committee’s spending to date has been mostly for consultants. It paid out $212,374 in July alone. The biggest checks have gone to Global Strategy Group of New York, paid $101,250 in July. The consulting group works on behalf of Democratic candidates and causes, including for U.S. Rep. Jason Crow of Aurora.

Three committees supporting initiative 120 have raised a cumulative total of less than $110,000 and among the three has less than $19,000 heading into the fall campaign season.

The largest is the main backer of initiative 120, Coalition for Women and Children. The committee has raised $108,939 and spent $85,642. Its largest expenditures in the last month have been to consultants: The Starboard Group, Michael Fields of Colorado Rising State Action and Majority Strategies of Florida, a consulting firm tied to Republican candidates and causes. But bringing in Majority Strategies could pay off, given its success in the 2020 primary season.

Majority Strategies, based in Florida, is run by Brett Buerck, formerly a Republican political operative in Ohio. Majority Strategies has been paid $410,253 in the 2019-20 election cycle for a long list of Republican candidates and causes.

That includes the campaigns that backed a slate of winning Republican candidates in contested primaries for the state House last month, including Weld Strong, the COPIC-backed Assuring Quality Healthcare committee and the Better Jobs Coalition, run by Rick Enstrom.

The other two committees backing #120 — Coalition to Help Moms and Save Babies, and Alliance for Life — have raised less than $2,000 total and spent less than $100 in the 2019-20 election cycle.

Initiative 257, which would allow the three communities with casino gaming, would remove maximum bet limits. Its issue committee, Local Choice Colorado, has raised $2,250,050 and spent $1,514,623.

Its biggest contributors, not surprisingly, are casinos. Its biggest spending has been to get the measure on the ballot, but the committee also has been hiring communications consultants in recent weeks, preparing for the fall advertising swing.

House Concurrent Resolution 001, referred by the legislature, would raise taxes on tobacco and vaping products, with the dollars funding public preschool.

No committee has yet filed to oppose the measure. The one backing it: A Brighter, Healthier Future for Colorado’s Kids, which has raised $755,027 and spent $525,620.

Its largest funder to date, at $250,000 is Gary Community Investments, which includes the Piton Foundation and is run by former state Sen. Michael Johnston.

Another large funder, at $230,000, is Education Reform Now Advocacy, the fundraising arm for Democrats for Education Reform, founded by New York-based hedge fund managers that back charter schools and opposes teachers’ unions and with past ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

ERN has already contributed $852,257 to Democratic candidates and causes in the 2019-20 election cycle, although $400,00 of that went to the committee that backed the failed ballot measure Proposition CC. Candidates they support include Sens. Jeff Bridges, Rhonda Fields and Rachel Zenzinger and Rep. Alec Garnett.

Initiative 76 would change language in the state constitution on who gets to vote. Currently, the constitution says “every citizen” can vote in Colorado, but #76 would change that to “only a citizen” can vote in an election. Critics say the measure is intended to gin up support from anti-immigrant voters.

The only committee formed to back the measure, Colorado Citizen Voters, has raised $1,431,059, with $1.43 million of that from Citizen Voters of Florida and which went for petition gathering. Citizen Voters is a dark money group, meaning it does not disclose its donors. The Colorado committee, however, has not raised any money since 2019 and its spending, almost all of it in 2019 and just over $29,000, went to its committee backer, former state Rep. Joe Stengel, to Cutter Consulting of Colorado Springs and for printing petitions.

The ballot measure seeking to repeal Gallagher — Senate Concurrent Resolution 001 — has two committees opposed and one in favor but none have yet to report spending or fundraising.

Colorado Coming Together, which supports the repeal, was just filed on July 23 and has reported only $50 in donations by July 27. It's led by former Democratic Secretary of State Bernie Buescher.

The two committees opposed are Protect Our Homes Colorado, which has not yet filed a campaign finance report, and Keep Property Taxes Low, led by Michael Fields. It has yet to report any contributions or spending.

A trio of committees has been formed to back two initiatives awaiting signature verification and to oppose a third that failed to make the ballot.

Americans for Prosperity has filed an issue committee to support initiatives 295 and 306. Initiative 295 would ask voters to approve any fees charged by a state enterprise — a state-run business, such as reinsurance — beginning January 1, 2021. Initiative 306 seeks to reduce the state income tax rate from 4.63% to 4.5%. The AFP issue committee has not filed its required August 3 campaign finance report. Its campaign compliance contacts are from StandTogether.org, founded by Charles Koch.

Energize our Economy, which backs #306, has $1,548 in cash as well as $655,828 in non-monetary donations, with $365,000 of that in July for signature gathering, paid by Unite for Colorado

Unite for Colorado has contributed $1,367,931 in services to both Energize and another committee backing #306 known as Voter Approval of Fees, which is run by Michael Fields of Colorado Rising Action.

Voter Approval of Fees received $744,931 in non-monetary contributions, all but $2,000 of it from Unite and to help get 295 and 306 on the ballot.

Unite for Colorado is also spending at least $2.2 million on attack ads on Hickenlooper. It’s run by Dustin Zvonek, a former vice president of strategy and innovation for Americans for Prosperity.

Initiative 283, which would set up a state-run paid family and medical leave program, has already gained two issue committees in favor and another against.

Not Now Colorado, the anti-group, has so far raised $25,000 and spent $9,968. Its only donation to date is from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Its largest expenditure, of $7,500, has been to The Starboard Group for consulting work.

Backing #283: Colorado Working Families and Colorado Families First, which has raised $2,826,914 and spent $2,625,316.

Its biggest donor: $2,802,000 from the dark-money Sixteen Thirty Fund, and $21,351 in non-monetary support from the labor union-backed Fairness Project of Washington, D.C. Its largest expenditures have been to put the question on the ballot. But the committee has also started to spend money, albeit in small amounts, on social media advertising.

While they turned in petitions on Monday, the backers of Initiative 200, which seeks to win voter approval for expunging criminal records, admit they did not turn in enough to qualify for the ballot.

The issue committee Common Sense, which was formed by the proponents of #200, has raised and spent $3,118 as of July 27.

The big spender who walked away empty-handed in the 2020 ballot drive is Fair Tax Colorado, which backed initiative 271. The committee took in $1,225,405 and spent $604,760 as of July 27.

Its big donors: a variety of groups that back public education, including teachers’ unions ($533,491), and Great Education Colorado ($84,935); the Bell Policy Center ($53,272 in cash and services) and $66,927 from its primary backer, the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

Its largest expenditures went to Landslide Political ($442,616) and to Taylor Petition Management ($129,137).

And while Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence also spent big, it won concessions from Gov. Jared Polis and at least four measures either backed by Protect Colorado or opposed by them won’t be on the November ballot.

The committee has been the recipient of millions in contributions from oil and gas giants, and despite the downturn in oil prices, industry contributions continue to flow in the 2019-20 election cycle.

Since March 1, Protect Colorado has taken in $4,063,500. That includes $1.219,050 each from Noble Energy, Occidental Petroleum and PDC Energy. Second-tier contributions of $135,450 each came from Bayswater Exploration, DCP Midstream and Liberty Oilfield Services.

The committee has spent $3.763,306 since March 1, almost all of it on advertising or consultant services through Pac/West.

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