Energy-funded 527 targets Garfield County Commission race

A 527 group funded by an oil and gas company is slumming in a down-ticked race for Garfield County Commission, according to the Aspen Daily News, a sure sign of just how much money is at stake in the natural-gas fields west of Glenwood Springs.

The Western Heritage 527 recently launched an ad campaign on behalf of Republican commission candidates John Martin and Mike Samson. The move prompted Democrat Steve Carter, a target of the campaign’s fliers, to call the fliers “garbage.”

But a number of other groups, some with ties to heavy-hitting state GOP stalwarts like former Congressman Scott McInnis, have also taken an interest in the race, according to the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. And the Aspen Daily News reported McInnis contributed $10,000 to Western Heritage.

McInnis, a lobbyist  who has worked on oil-and-gas issues for the Denver law firm Hogan & Hartson, said he was merely trying to even the playing field because of an expected flood of money from liberal-leaning groups –- something that hasn’t happened yet.

“If you ask me tomorrow if we should shut down 527s and put a reasonable limit on campaign contributions, I’d say ‘yes’ in a heartbeat,” said McInnis, who spoke in Western Heritage’s TV ads, according to the Daily News. “What I’m saying is, there is not a level playing field out there at all.”

The mayors of Carbondale, New Castle, Rifle and Glenwood Springs will conduct a press conference this morning at 9 between the Glenwood town hall and the county courthouse to express their concern about the amount of outside money being pumped into the commissioner races.

“Never has an industry that is before the Garfield County Commission on a weekly basis spent so much to ensure that its people are elected,” Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said in a release.

Another sign of Garfield County’s energy battleground status is the attention the area is getting from state and national candidates. In a brief interview with the Post-Independent after his stump speech in Denver Sunday, Sen. Barack Obama said he wants the federal government to work more closely with impacted communities before making oil and gas leasing decisions.

The paper noted that Obama’s statements echo the sentiments of U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, and Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter, all of whom have blasted the Bush administration for ignoring local concerns.

“I have been troubled by how the Bush administration approaches it, which seems to always have the scales tilted towards unbridled development without considering the views of local communities,” Obama told the paper.