Colorado oil and gas industry doubles down on Raise the Bar

Raise the Bar, the campaign that would  make it harder for Colorado voters to amend the state’s constitution, pulled in another $1.4 million in contributions over the past two weeks, bringing the total raised to almost $4.2 million. More than 95 percent of the latest funding came from the oil and gas industry.

The Raise the Bar campaign is working to pass Amendment 71, a controversial constitutional ballot initiative that would, as the name implies, raise the bar on other such initiative campaigns in the future.

Voters looking to amend Colorado’s constitution by ballot measure would have to get signatures from 2 percent of each of the state’s 35 senate districts, not just the population-dense urban areas of the Front Range, to qualify for the ballot. Qualifying initiatives would then have to garner 55 percent of the vote to pass rather than the simple majority currently required.

The campaign’s largest donor by far, Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, gave $1 million to the effort during the latest campaign filing period, doubling its total contribution this year. The group is funded by big-name petroleum producers like Noble Energy and Anadarko.

The Colorado Petroleum Council, the state office for the American Petroleum Institute, gave $250,000. Oil and gas operators Whiting Petroleum Corp. and PDC Energy gave $100,000 and $25,000, respectively, and the Fund for Colorado’s Energy Future, which is funded by oil and gas operators large and small, chipped in almost $18,000.

To date, the oil and gas industry — which has a demonstrated interest in keeping citizen-backed anti-fracking amendments, like this year’s #75 and #78, off the ballot — has been responsible for almost 75 percent of Raise the Bar’s total funding. The industry ponied up almost $15 million to fight #75 and #78, which both ultimately failed to make the ballot.

Other donations this round came from the Colorado Bar Association ($30,000), AARP Colorado ($15,000), tourism organization Visit Denver ($10,000) and the Colorado Pork Producers ($10,000). The remaining 17 donations were largely from individuals, all $500 or less. Over the course of its campaign, Raise the Bar has also raised money from state associations of realtors,   dairy farmers and casino owners, along with business coalition Colorado Concern.

The many proponents of Amendment 71 say it’s necessary to protect the state’s constitution from being too easily amended by special interests.

“Amendment 71 will truly show the voice of the people. All parts of Colorado will need to show support, not just from a few select locations,” said Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

But a growing collection of grassroots organizers, libertarian think tanks, environmentalists and progressive good-government watchdogs say doing so would strip voters of their power to enact change. The cost of setting up ground campaigns and collecting signatures in 35 districts, they say, would be prohibitive to all but the most wealthy groups.

“Make no mistake: 71 is a de facto repeal of the people’s constitutional right to participate in the legislative process,” said Phil Doe, Environmental Director for Be the Change. “It’s what democracy looks like when corporate interests and their political stooges conspire to take away our fundamental rights using a flood of outside money.”

Photo credit: Indi Samarajiva, Creative Commons, Flickr