Union campaign spends $4.6 million on media blitz, political stakes go even higher

(Photo/Unhindered by Talent, Flickr)
(Photo/Unhindered by Talent, Flickr)

A Colorado labor union raised more than $3.2 million in the last two weeks for a campaign to support two ballot proposals regulating safe business practices and to oppose a “right-to-work” measure supported by pro-business interests. Nearly all of the money has been committed to purchase media advertisements across the state in what appears to be an unprecedented pull-out-all-the-stops campaign by the union.

Coloradans for Middle Class Relief, a political committee backed by the Denver-based United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7, boasts an astounding haul to support its state ballot questions: Amendment 56, which would require certain employers to provide health insurance to their employees, and Amendment 57, which would provide workers injured on the job with stronger legal rights.

“That $3 million is in addition to the $1.5 million we spent already on a media buy,” said Manny Gonzales, a spokesperson for the UFCW local. “I can’t say with any certainty whether we’ve spent this much on a past campaign. It’s a sizable amount now. It’s easily one of the largest media buys for a state campaign in Colorado this election cycle.”

A recent contract report from cable company Comcast shows that the UFCW’s political committee has agreed to spend a net total of $671,558 to buy a whopping 6,022 television spots that began running in late August in the Denver, Grand Junction and Colorado Springs cable markets and will continue through Election Day. The 30-second ads will be seen in heavy rotation on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ESPN, and a wide variety of sports and entertainment channels.

And that’s just one cable provider among several in the state.

Gonzales wouldn’t disclose what exact ads the union has in mind to broadcast, but he did confirm that the UFCW will use the ad space for spots against a measure that it opposes: Amendment 47, a “right-to-work” proposal that seeks to restrict the way labor unions in the state organize.

Both Amendments 56 and 57 are considered to be counter-measures supported by labor in response to Amendment 47. The union is also planning ad spots supporting 56 and 57, according to Gonzales.

Said Kelley Harp, spokesperson for A Better Colorado, a political committee supporting the “right-to-work” measure: “Our campaign will be on the air to educate voters on the positive merits of Amendment 47.”

“We also anticipate that we will have to counter the misinformation put out by the opponents of Amendment 47,” Harp said, noting that he thought it was “unfortunate” that so much money was being spent against legislation for “worker freedom.”

But one man’s misinformation is another man’s truth to power.

“In really tough economic times, what’s really going to stand out is what’s going to help individuals not businesses,” said Dominic Del Papa, a Denver political strategist with Ikon Public Affairs. “This whole situation is unprecedented — to have so many measures that offer so much change on both sides.”

Colorado has become a testing ground for ballot measures that seek to make significant change in the political and policy landscape of the nation, according to Del Papa.

That point will be fully evident on Nov. 4 when voters face both the country’s longest ballot and one that includes radical state constitutional amendments with national aspirations, like the “right-to-work” measure and moves to eliminate Affirmative Action and bestow legal rights on fertilized eggs.

While voters may be encouraged to bring a sandwich to the polls in order to trudge through 18 ballot measures and a baker’s dozen or more of federal, state and local races, Del Papa underscores that there’s quite a bit at stake beyond Election Day.

The battle being waged on the ballot is no less a proxy war for Colorado’s economic future, he explains. It will affect the tone of relationships between labor and business after the election. It will impact public officials who line up on either side of the issues or those who choose to sit on the fence. And just two months after voters head to the polls, the Colorado state legislature goes back into session and Gov. Bill Ritter will mark the mid-point of his first term. Will it be business as usual under the dome or will the political casualties of an inflamed ballot war spill over into the realm of the usually mundane legislative sausage-making?

“Neither side wants to see this combativeness but they want to prevail on their issues,” said Del Papa.

And those battle have already come with high costs.

UFCW has contributed a total of $4.8 million to the Coloradans for Middle Class Relief committee since June while Amendment 47 supporters have raised $1.1 million since January. Both committees report having $100,000 cash on hand as of Sept. 15.

Neither of the groups’ ads are available to preview on the Web or via YouTube.

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