Major political players train sights on Curry rafting-rights bill

Former Democratic state Sen. Michael Feeley, a lawyer-lobbyist who spent seven years as Minority Leader, is behind an advertising campaign aimed at torpedoing a rafting rights bill floated in the House by Rep. Kathleen Curry.

Friends of Colorado’s Rivers is listed on the “paid for” line in the ads, which advocate for the property rights of landowners along Colorado rivers. The ad reaches out to landowners who may want to keep commercial rafting outfits from pulling out on their property in order to portage rough sections of water or deal with emergency situations.

Arkansas River (CC photo, Kahunapulej, Flickr)
Arkansas River (CC photo, Kahunapulej, Flickr)

The group caused some confusion for proponents of the legislation, who argue Colorado rivers should be kept open to the state’s $142-million-a-year rafting industry – even along private stretches. The problem was that Friends of Colorado’s Rivers isn’t listed with the Colorado Secretary of State as a political committee. It is, however, registered as a nonprofit corporation (pdf) under the SOS business section.

Feeley is in fact a registered lobbyist, and as the registered agent for the Lakewood-based nonprofit is not legally required to register as a political committee when lobbying in support or opposition of proposed legislation.

Curry’s bill, HB 1188, passed in the House by 40-25 vote but now faces a much tougher battle in the Senate, where it will be the hotly contested subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on March 17, according to the Denver Post.

Curry, who late last year switched from Democrat to independent, introduced the bill because two commercial rafting outfitters in her district were barred by a Texas developer from running a stretch of the Taylor River they had been rafting for years.

The Texas developer, Lewis Shaw, who, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, bought up thousands of acres along the Taylor with the intention of selling them off as 35-acre ranchettes, is not listed among Feeley’s principals on the SOS lobbyist disclosure site. But Friends of Colorado’s Rivers was just registered on Feb. 12, so the developer may show up on a future disclosure.

It’s also possible the developer or a property rights group called the Creekside Coalition hired Feeley’s government relations law firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, to work on their behalf.

According to one political observer, Secretary of State Bernie Buescher is working on rules that would require the companies or individuals behind a lobbying effort to be disclosed on the SOS website, not just the law firms or lobbyists they hire.

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