Spending on ballot measures hits the big time

Labor Day traditionally marks the start of the final push of the campaign season and spending by committees involved with the nine measures on the November ballot has ticked up dramatically. Campaign finance reports filed earlier this week for Sept. 1 to Sept. 14 reveal some pretty lopsided fundraising and spending by groups involved with three of the state’s hottest ballot measures.

Amendment 71, aka Raise the Bar. You’ve seen the ads – John Suthers, mayor of Colorado Springs; former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb (get well, soon, Mr. Mayor!) and former Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace – all urging citizens to vote yes on Amendment 71.

Those ads, which can be found on area TV stations as well as the Internet, don’t come cheap.

What’s the issue and how much has been raised to support or oppose the measure in the most recent reporting period? Raise the Bar would require ballot measures seeking a constitutional amendment to obtain petition signatures in all of Colorado’s 35 state senate districts, instead of collecting signatures just along the Front Range, which is common practice today. Those ballot measures would also need a higher percentage of votes – 55 percent – versus the 50-percent- plus-one-vote requirement currently in state law. 

Raise the Bar is backed by a coalition led by “Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence,” Protect Colorado for short. The organization, which is funded by oil-and-gas giants Anadarko and Noble Energy, also led the opposition to two anti-fracking initiatives that failed to make the ballot last month.

There isn’t yet a formal campaign committee devoted to fighting the ballot measure, but Amendment 71 doesn’t lack for opposition. That opposition has made for interesting bedfellows: the Independence Institute, Colorado Common Cause, various right-to-life groups, TABOR supporters, and others from across the political spectrum.

Who are the big contributors? Protect Colorado has been the biggest funder to date, with $1 million donated this month. Colorado Concern, a coalition of business leaders, has put in $185,500,  including $25,500 this month. In all, Raise the Bar took in $1.1 million in the most recent two-week filing period.

Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute said an issue committee is being organized to raise funds to fight the measure, but that hasn’t happened yet.

What’s the grand total, so far? Raise the Bar has raised close to $2.7 million, most of it in the past six weeks.

What about expenses? Raise the Bar has spent $2.1 million to get out the message. Of that $2.1 million, $882,530 has been spent  on radio and TV ads in the last two weeks, according to recent campaign finance reports.

And after all that raising and spending, what’s the balance sheet look like? Raise the Bar had $524,305 left in the bank as of Sept. 14.


Amendment 69, aka ColoradoCare. While Raise the Bar is raising millions to support the measure, ColoradoCare hasn’t been so fortunate.

What’s the issue and how much has been raised to support or oppose the measure in the most recent reporting period? The amendment would set up a universal health care system in Colorado, funded by a 3.33 percent tax on employees and 6.67 percent tax on employers. It would replace private insurance and ensure that all Coloradans have health care, regardless of ability to pay or pre-existing medical conditions.

The committee backing ColoradoCare raised $10,011 from Sept.1 to Sept. 14. The main opposition comes from Coloradans for Coloradans, which raised $69,305 over the same time period. Coloradans for Coloradans is an issue committee backed largely by the health insurance industry.

Who are the big contributors? ColoradoCare is backed by Co-operate Colorado, which focuses on the state’s healthcare crisis, and a slew of doctors and other health care professionals, including state Sen. Irene Aguilar, the “creative force” behind the ballot measure.

ColoradoCare received more than 200 individual donations in the last two weeks, ranging from a few dollars to $500. Coloradans for Coloradans received $22,500 from a political action committee backed by the hospitality industry, $10,000 from Pfizer; and several $5,000 donations, including one from Focus on the Family; and a $1,000 contribution from John Elway.

What’s the grand total, so far? The fundraising by Coloradans for Coloradans swamps that of the ColoradoCare backers. Coloradans’ donations are just under $4 million, compared to $359,725 for ColoradoCare.

What about expenses? Coloradans for Coloradans shelled out $183,432 in just the last reporting period. Of that, $163,345 went for advertising on cable TV and on the Internet, including Facebook.

ColoradoCare spent $33,415 in the same time period, with $12,927 shelled out for less high-profile advertising: mailers, rack cards and bumper stickers.

And after all that raising and spending, what’s the balance sheet look like? ColoradoCare has $10,782 left before the next reporting period ends. Coloradans for Coloradans has $329,664 on hand.


Amendment 70, minimum wage. This ballot measure attempts to persuade voters to increase the state’s minimum wage, currently at $8.31 per hour, to $12 per hour by 2020.

What’s the issue and how much has been raised to support or oppose the measure in the most recent reporting period? The minimum wage is a national issue; several cities, like Seattle and Washington, D.C., are planning to increase their minimum wage rates to $15 per hour, which is considered a “living wage.” A “living wage calculator” developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that to sustain a family of four, with two working adults, the living wage in Denver would have to be $16.57 per hour.

Amendment 70 proposes the minimum wage increase to $9.30 per hour, beginning Jan. 1, 2017 and increasing by $.90 per hour every year until it reaches $12 per hour on Jan. 1, 2020. A recent survey by Magellan Strategies shows the measure has strong support, with 55 percent in favor and 42 percent against.

The measure is backed by Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, which brought in $600,422 in the reporting period of Sept. 1 to Sept. 14. Opposition is led by Keep Colorado Working, which raised $22,800 in the last two weeks.

Who are the big contributors? Keep Colorado Working received $10,000 from the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association and another $5,000 from the state’s association of collection agencies. Byron Wheeler, a director of franchise performance for Burger King, contributed $4,500. Bruce Gerstein, owner of Thornton restaurant 5 Alarm, donated $2,000.

The biggest funder of Colorado Families for a Fair Wage has been the Service International Employees Union (SEIU), both directly through the union and through a side organization, the Fairness Project of Palo Alto, California, which works to put minimum wage initiatives on state ballots. SEIU contributed $200,000 this month and, through the Fairness Project, gave another $100,000. The union’s total for both groups is now $586,132.

The New York-based Civic Participation Action Fund, which targets public policy on behalf of low-income people of color, kicked in $300,000 this month, bringing its total to $500,000.

What’s the grand total, so far? Colorado Families for a Fair Wage has brought in $2.3 million, compared to $636,884 for Keep Colorado Working.

What about expenses? Colorado Families for a Fair Wage spent $443,700 in the first two weeks of September, with the largest chunk, $400,000, on advertising through Screen Strategies Media of Fairfax, VA.

Keep Colorado Working spent a majority of its funds in the first two weeks of September, a total of $501,952. Of that, $372,500, went to Pac/West of Denver for a TV media buy. So keep your eyes out – the ads are coming.

Oregon-based Pac/West has been the go-to source for advertising this year; the company has so far made almost $14.6 million this year in Colorado on mailers and other advertising for committees targeting House and Senate candidates, as well as for several issue committees, including Protect Colorado.

And after all that raising and spending, what’s the balance sheet look like? Colorado Families for a Fair Wage still has plenty to spend: $745,667. Keep Colorado Working has $30,894 on hand.

The next two-week reporting period ends on Sept. 28. Mail ballots go out on Monday, Oct. 17.


Photo credit: 401(k) 2012, Creative Commons, Flickr