Signature gatherer for oil and gas ballot measure has left Colorado

In this March 29, 2013 file photo, a worker helps monitor water pumping pressure and temperature, at a hydraulic fracturing and extraction site, outside Rifle, in western Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

One of the contractors collecting petition signatures to get a measure increasing restrictions on Colorado oil and gas operations on the November ballot has pulled out of Colorado, and some of its employees are left unpaid.

Six other firms are still collecting signatures for Initiative 97, which would force oil and gas operations to be at least 2,500 feet from homes and other occupied business, up from from the current setbacks of 500 feet for homes and 1,000 feet for schools.

About 85 percent of non-federal land in Colorado would be unavailable for future oil and gas operations if the measure is adopted, according to an analysis by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

> RELATED: Drilling setback ballot measure would keep rigs off of most Colorado lands

Anne Lee Foster from Colorado Rising, the group behind the ballot question, said losing the services of contractor Direct Action Partners (DAP) doesn’t sink the effort, but it doesn’t help.

“We were appalled to learn about the problems associated with Direct Action Partners,” Foster said in a statement after she was contacted by Colorado Politics Tuesday. “We are very concerned that DAP has failed to pay its employees. Wage theft is a very serious problem in Colorado and we hope the appropriate authorities will pursue this matter on behalf of these dedicated workers. As per our contract, we made full payments to DAP. We are becoming aware that DAP didn’t fully pay its employees. DAP is no longer providing services to Colorado Rising. This is an ongoing situation, and we encourage the press to contact the appropriate authorities for further information.”

The company was collecting signatures in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Pueblo.

Michael Selvaggio, the president of Direct Action Partners, sent the following statement to Colorado Politics:

“Last week Colorado Rising indicated to Direct Action Partners that it would not pay a bill that was due and had been invoiced by DAP for signatures collected during July 8 through July 14. DAP suspended its activities when Colorado Rising did not provide assurances that DAP would be paid for its continued work and had numerous discussions with Colorado Rising to try to resolve the matter. Although DAP believed a resolution had been reached, on Sunday July 22, an attorney for Colorado Rising sent a letter threatening litigation. We are surprised and disappointed that at this particular time in the petition process that Colorado Rising would prefer to devote its energies and resources to litigation instead of resolving our disputes and focusing on the work that remains to be done to get its initiative on the November ballot.

“Unfortunately, without the expected funds from Colorado Rising, DAP was unable to pay all of its employees who worked hard on Colorado Rising’s initiative. DAP used all of its available funds to meet its payroll and was able to pay a number of employees. None of the principals of DAP were paid. DAP intends to pay the balance of its employee’s wages as soon as it can collect its accounts from DAP’s other clients and from any amounts it might recover from Colorado Rising in any threatened litigation.

“Because of the threat of litigation by Colorado Rising, and upon the advice of counsel, we are unable to comment further at this time.”

Colorado Rising disputed that account and provided an audio recording they said was of their meeting with Selvaggio, in which he takes responsibility for delays and paperwork problems. They organization wanted the full return of their deposit, and Selvaggio said, “I’ll be blunt, we dipped into that.” He said the organization should sue so his insurance would pay them back.

“You guys have acted in good faith, and I appreciate that,” Selvaggio said in the recording. “It pains me we have got to this point and I realize that it’s my fault — and my attorney would probably slap my face and tell me to shut up.”

Selvaggio acknowledged the comment from the audio to Colorado Politics. He said it was out of context and he couldn’t speak further about the issue.

Backers of Initiative 97 need to submit about 98,000 valid voter signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office by Aug. 6 to qualify for the ballot.

Direct Action Partners registered as a petition-gatherer for the Initiative 97 on April 18, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. On June 20, it added Initiative 146, a proposed ballot measure concerning transparency in health-care billing.

Andrew Graham, one of the two designated representatives for Initiative 146, said that since the campaign ended last week and the measure won’t be on the ballot, a decision that had to do with fundraising ability for the campaign, not signatures.

Rob Fairchild, a former Colorado statehouse aide and a team leader for DAP, said he showed up for work to find the office in Colorado Springs emptied out last Friday morning, on payday. He said he is owed more than $1,500 in pay and bonuses.

“We showed up to a completely deserted office that was full of life just 24 hours before, and the business that was operating disappeared over night,” he said. “A sense of abandonment and confusion is what I initially felt, this lead to more confusion and eventually to a bit of anger.”

Opponents of Initiative 97 put the blame the broader effort to pass the measure, not on the contractor.

“They can try to shift the blame as much as they want, but the buck stops with Colorado Rising and its out-of-state funders,” said Peter Moore, a Denver business lawyer who leads Vital for Colorado, a coalition of state businesses that support energy policy that includes oil and gas. “They have left their own people stranded with no jobs and no back pay and they refuse to take responsibility for their own campaign.

“This is yet another debacle for anti-oil and gas groups, who manage to prove every two years why they can’t be trusted with the keys to the Colorado state economy.”

Dan Haley, the president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, joked that “Colorado Rising got a head start in putting people out of work in Colorado.”

“Imagine how catastrophic it would be if they actually succeed in passing their measure, which would rob tens of thousands of Colorado working families of their livelihoods,” Haley said. “Initiative 97 aims to shut down one of Colorado’s most crucial economic pillars. Current analysis shows Coloradans enjoying the lowest energy costs out of all 50 states. Putting people out of work and forcing families and businesses to pay more to meet their energy needs would be extremely bad for Colorado on a number of levels. We encourage everyone to read before they sign any petition presented by any signature collecting firm hired by Colorado Rising.”

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