Did Raise the Bar and its partner, Building a Better Colorado, violate state campaign finance laws?

Former Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy and Democratic Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs promote Raise the Bar in Steamboat Springs in June.

Yes, says Wheat Ridge attorney Chris Forsyth, who on Friday filed a campaign finance complaint against both organizations.

Forsyth, executive director of the Judicial Integrity Project, alleges Building a Better Colorado should have filed as an issue committee with the Secretary of State because the organization has led the effort to put Initiative 96 on the ballot. Forsyth’s complaint states that the only purpose of Building a Better Colorado is to design and support ballot initiatives.

Initiative 96, known as Raise the Bar, would increase the percentage of votes needed to pass an amendment to the state constitution from 50 percent to 55 percent. It would also require petition-gatherers to collect signatures in all of Colorado’s 35 senate districts.

Related: A Colorado ballot measure to hinder ballot measures

On Friday, Raise the Bar turned in petitions with 185,000 signatures supporting the measure to the Secretary of State. Petitions must have at least 98,492 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Campaign finance reports filed last week show Raise the Bar has so far collected $968,030, with $300,000 coming from Vital for Colorado, an organization of civic and business leaders formed in 2014 to support the oil and gas industry.

Since Vital for Colorado and Building a Better Colorado are registered as nonprofits with the Secretary of State — and not as campaign committees —  their funding sources aren’t disclosed through the campaign finance system.

Raise the Bar has also taken in hundreds of thousands of dollars from prominent civic and business leaders and organizations, and energy companies, including $100,000 from Colorado Concern; $45,000 from Gary Williams, an energy company; $25,000 from former Westinghouse executive Dan Ritchie; and $25,000 from Larry Mizel’s MDC Holdings.

In May, the Boulder Weekly reported the effort to change the petition process was being backed by the oil and gas industry as a way of shutting down anti-fracking ballot measures.

Forsyth claims Raise the Bar and Building a Better Colorado failed to disclose contributions and expenditures that would help pass Initiative 96.

That includes hiring former state Sen. Greg Brophy, who has been working on Raise the Bar for most of the year. Forsyth pointed out that Brophy claimed in February he was being paid to promote Raise the Bar, but campaign filings do not show any payments to him.

However, Josh Penry, who runs EIS Solutions, a consulting firm that has been working on the campaign, told The Colorado Independent Friday that Brophy is an EIS subcontractor. Raise the Bar has paid the company more than $150,000 in the past several months. 

Forsyth’s complaint also alleges Raise the Bar did not file as an issue committee in  a timely manner. The committee registration was filed on Feb. 22. But Forsyth claims that Raise the Bar should have been registered in June 2015, when Building a Better Colorado was registered with the business section of the Secretary of State.

The complaint also claims Raise the Bar did not disclose either contributions or payments to Reeves Brown, who formerly served as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive director of the Department of Local Affairs. Brown is currently project coordinator for Building a Better Colorado.

Forsyth claimed Brown was doing work for both Building a Better Colorado and Raise the Bar and those payments should have been disclosed. A call to Raise the Bar was not returned as of this posting.

“These are politically savvy people, who know the rules regarding campaign finance,” said Forsyth, who has attempted several ballot initiatives in the past.“This initiative is big-business and big-money’s attempt to circumvent the legislature and betray the average citizen by making it harder for people to govern themselves.” 

The Office of Administrative Courts must hold a hearing on the complaint within the next 15 days.


Correction: Judicial Integrity Project was misidentified in original story.