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Backed by $1.7 million in dark money contributions, the effort to put a paid family leave measure on the November ballot kicked off its petition drive on Monday.

Colorado Families First announced the beginning of a campaign that seeks to put Initiative 283, which sets up paid family and medical leave, on the November 3 ballot. 

The ballot measure calls for voters to approve statutory changes that would set up a leave program within the state Department of Labor and Employment. Those who qualify would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave annually.

Premiums, akin to worker's compensation insurance, would be paid beginning Jan. 1, 2023, and shared equally between the employer and the employee. The amount of the premium for the first two years is .9% of an employee's wages.

Businesses that offer equivalent leave programs are exempted from the proposal. 

The campaign is backed with $1.7 million in cash from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based dark money group that does not disclose its donors. It also has received non-monetary contributions from the Fairness Project, which is part of the Service International Employees Union. The Fairness Project does not disclose its donors in Colorado's campaign finance system.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund has poured nearly $13 million in Colorado campaign coffers that favor Democrats or left-leaning causes. That has included donations to a campaign fighting the 2013 recall of Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and contributions to a committee fighting personhood initiatives. The Sixteen Thirty Fund was nearly the only source of funds for Proposition 111, the 2018 voter-approved measure capping payday loans at 36% interest.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund and the Fairness Project are the only funders to date for the paid leave ballot measure. According to the right-leaning Influence Watch, the Sixteen Thirty Fund is among a host of organizations administered by Arabella Advisors, a philanthropic management company run by University of Colorado graduate Eric Kessler, formerly with the Clinton administration.

Carmen Medrano, executive director of United for a New Economy, which backs the initiative, said Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic "underscores the need for strong, pro-family policies that can keep our families and our communities safe and healthy. Coloradans strongly support this initiative, and we are confident we will succeed in passing paid family and medical leave on the ballot this November.”

The ballot measure follows two years of efforts by Democratic lawmakers to pass a family and medical leave bill. They abandoned those efforts during the 2020 session, instead asking supporters to back the ballot measure.

Business groups are already lining up to oppose the measure, including the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, which challenged the measure in court, claiming the program would levy a tax rather than a fee.

The ballot measure will need 124,632 valid signatures to qualify for the November 2020 election. Petition signatures are due to the Secretary of State by August 3.

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