Proponents of a nicotine tax on the November ballot formally alleged Thursday that out-of-state tobacco companies are bankrolling the opposition. That should come as little surprise, but the Yes on EE camp says the No on EE camp isn't reporting its spending the way Colorado law says it should.
Both sides accuse the other of lacking transparency.
“We’re happy to take our measure to the voters and let them decide because we know that they support investing in our kids’ health and education,” Michele Ames, spokesperson for the Yes on EE campaign, said in a statement.
“But when Big Tobacco tries to flout our state’s campaign finance laws and intentionally mislead Colorado voters in an effort to protect their profit margins at the expense of our public health, there is no choice but to call that out. Voters have a right to know what they are voting on.”
The complaint says the No on EE isn't listing the name of its registered agent on its advertising, as required, and makes false or misleading claims.
“The No on EE campaign has been more than transparent in our campaign finance filings going above and beyond by showing what in-kind contributions were spent on," Michelle Lyng, A Bad Deal for Colorado spokesperson, said Thursday. "We have put the 'Paid for by No on EE: A Bad Deal for Colorado' disclaimer on everything that we have put out. This is just a political game from a campaign that will not reveal their donors.”
The complaint asks the Secretary of State's Office to force compliance with reporting standards, and to fine the No on EE side either 5% or 10% of the what it has spent campaigning against the tax hike. By the complaint's calculation that would be $165,061 or $330,122.
Colorado Public Radio reported Thursday that both sides had each raised about $3.5 million.
Opponents characterize the tax hike as the product of special interests, exploitive of the poor with no guarantees on how the money would be spent. Supporters say it would raise millions of preschools and K-12 schools to help curb the budget pain caused by the ongoing pandemic. Money also would go into programs to promote quitting or avoiding the habit.
The measure would make the minimum price for a pack of cigarettes $7 a pack, then $7.50 in 2024, squeezing out discount brands. Cigarettes taxed at 84 cents a pack now would be taxed at $2.64, while applying a similar levy on vaping products that contain nicotine.
Besides cigarettes and other traditional tobacco products, the measure would also tax vaping, which makes this year's ballot question different than the one voters rejected in 2016, 53% to 47%.