Spending on a pair of ballot measures that would have a sweeping impact on Colorado oil and gas development appears to have set a Colorado state record.
The last campaign finance reports before Election Day showed that spending for Amendment 74 and against Proposition 112 had topped at least $38.2 million combined.
The two measures – seen as a reaction to one another – would set new rules for energy development. Proposition 112 would push oil and gas operations much farther away from homes and buildings. And under Amendment 74, property owners who face a drop in property values due to government regulations – such as not being allowed to drill for oil and gas – sue for reimbursement.
The top funder of the pro-74/anti-112 effort is Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independent, a.k.a. Protect Colorado, which spent $6.9 million in the most recent reporting period, Oct. 11-24, according to finance reports reviewed last week.
That included $3.18 million in contributions to the Committee for Colorado’s Shared Heritage, which backs Amendment 74. Out of the $11.23 million Shared Heritage has raised, all but $10,000 came from Protect Colorado, which gets its money almost entirely from the oil and gas industry.
The committee has faced criticism for at least two deceptive mailers that claim The Gazette continues to endorse Amendment 74. The Gazette retracted an earlier endorsement Oct. 10, but the two mailers surfaced well after that date.
The previous fundraising and spending record on a Colorado ballot measure was for the fight over Amendment 68 in 2014, which dealt with racetrack betting at casinos. Proponents raised $19.2 million and spent $18.5 million. Opponents raised $16.2 million and spent $15.7 million.
This year, Protect Colorado has spent at least $27 million just to fight Proposition 112, and that doesn’t include spending on TV ads from Noble Energy or several other issue committees formed in the past week that also advocate for the measure’s defeat.
Protect Colorado reports it has spent $18.27 million on advertising that does not appear to be tied to Amendment 74 and another $8.46 million for legal costs and campaign management. Its total spending in the 2018 campaign season now tops $38 million.
Protect Colorado has raised $41 million to back Amendment 74 and urge the defeat of Proposition 112, which would establish a 2,500-foot setback from occupied structures for new oil and gas development.
Another $400,000 has been raised by a new committee – the Spirit of Colorado – backed primarily by rancher Steve Wells and Wells Ranch in Weld County. Noble Energy reportedly leases 80 percent of the ranch’s 32,000 acres; PDC Energy leases the rest. The Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank that doesn’t disclose its donors, also has made small contributions to the committee.
A last-minute rush to boost the fight against Proposition 112 led to the formation of several other issue committees, including one backed by Exxon Mobil Corp.: No on 112, which had yet to report any spending, and an issue committee formed by the Colorado chapter of the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity.
That also does not include spending by Noble Energy, which ran TV ads against Proposition 112 and does not have to disclose under Colorado law how much it spent on those ads.
The main committee backing Proposition 112, Colorado Rising for Health and Safety, had raised a total of $986,414 and spent $818,585. The anti-Amendment 74 committee Save Our Neighborhoods had raised $6.5 million and spent $5.9 million. A third committee backing Proposition 112 and opposed to Amendment 74 and tied to the Washington, D.C.-Earthworks Action Fund raised about $46,000.
In the most recent reporting period, the anti-Amendment 74 committee Save Our Neighborhoods got its biggest funding boost of the campaign season: $3 million from the progressive New York-based Sixteen Thirty Fund, which is run by Eric Kessler, who managed conservation initiatives in the Clinton administration.
Sixteen Thirty, as a 501(c)4, doesn’t disclose its donors, but it has put $10.9 million into Colorado campaigns in the last six years, almost all of it in the 2018 election cycle. And the fund’s donations this election has made it this year’s biggest dark money donor backing Democrats.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund has been very busy in the most recent reporting cycle, with $4.3 million in contributions to four Democrat-aligned committees, led by the $3 million given to the anti-74 campaign.
The fund gave $400,000 to the independent expenditure committee that supports Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser. Another $545,000 went to Coloradans Creating Opportunities, which backs Democrats for the General Assembly. And $365,000 went to the issue committee that asks voters to cap payday loan interest and fees at 36 percent by passing Proposition 111.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund is the largest donor to Coloradans to Stop Predatory Payday Loans, with total contributions at $2.03 million. The committee had raised only $100,000 outside of the fund’s contributions.