Ballot measure spending hits a high watermark

That ballot you’re holding in your hand – or the one you filled out and sent back to your local county clerk?

More than $67 million has now been collected to influence your vote on the nine statewide initiatives on that ballot. That includes two issue committees that each have raised more than $17 million. The current record for one issue committee is just under $20 million, spent in 2014 by opponents, mostly casinos, seeking to head off expanded gaming at state race tracks. 

You might be able to guess one of the big-money committees, but the second started out fighting against other initiatives and has now shifted its focus – and resources – to a third.

The first is the No on 72 committee. It seeks the defeat of a proposed increase on the state’s tax on cigarettes from 84 cents per pack to $2.59 per pack. In just six weeks, the committee has raised $17.4 million in cash and in-kind contributions. Should the measure pass, it would pump an estimated $315 million a year into a variety of health programs.

One donor is responsible for almost all of the money for No on 72: Altria, formerly known as tobacco giant Philip Morris. Altria has kicked in nearly $16.3 million in cash, a state record for a single donor to an issue committee.

The second committee is Protect Colorado. Protect Colorado raised and spent millions in a successful battle to keep two anti-fracking initiatives from making the ballot. It’s now raising money to support Amendment 71, also known as Raise the Bar. That measure would make it harder for residents and groups to place constitutional amendments on the ballot by requiring petition signatures from all 35 state senate districts and approval from 55 percent of voters.

Protect Colorado raised slightly more than $17 million from Dec. 5, 2014 through Oct. 20.  In just the past week, the committee has received $603,000, almost all of it from energy giants PDC Energy, Noble Energy and Anadarko Petroleum. 

Anadarko is by far the largest donor to Protect Colorado, with about $6.5 million in contributions this election cycle. Noble Energy isn’t far behind, with $5 million in contributions.

The battle over Proposition 106, the measure that would allow qualifying terminally ill patients seeking to end their lives to obtain a prescription for drugs to do so, is also seeing some big-dollar contributions for and against.

The Catholic Church has been the biggest funder to the No on Assisted Suicide committee, which has now raised almost $2.4 million. The Archdiocese of Metro Denver has been the biggest donor, with $1.6 million in contributions.

But those contributions have been dwarfed by the funds given to the Yes on Colorado End of Life Options committee, which has so far raised more than $5.6 million. The largest donor is listed as Compassion and Choices, which shares a Denver address with Yes on Colorado End of Life Options. Total cash and in-kind donations from Compassion and Choices and its affiliate, Compassion and Choices Action Network, total $4.6 million.

Compassion and Choices is affiliated with Compassion and Choices, a Denver-based national organization that advances end-of-life public policy. The national organization doesn’t divulge who and how much its individual and corporate donors contribute, so it’s unlikely Coloradans will ever know exactly who funded the ballot measure.

Four other issue committees have now raised more than $4 million each to support or fight against ballot measures.

• Coloradans for a Fair Wage, which backs Amendment 70, the minimum wage measure, has raised $4.74 million. Much of its funds come from national unions, such as Service International Employees Union, which is affiliated with Colorado WINS, the state employee union in Colorado. The measure would increase the state’s current minimum wage of $8.31 an hour to $9.30 per hour, beginning Jan. 1, 2017, and by 90 cents every Jan. 1 until it reaches $12 per hour on Jan. 1, 2020.

• Let Colorado Vote backs Proposition 107, the measure that would allow unaffiliated voters to participate in primaries. The committee has raised $4.46 million. Its biggest donor is Kent Thiry of Cherry Hills Village, CEO of DaVita, the kidney dialysis company. Thiry has contributed almost $1.2 million and loaned the campaign another $805,000.

• Raise the Bar supports Amendment 71, the initiative to change how constitutional amendments are voted on. The committee has raised $4.2 million, with $2 million in September from Protect Colorado.

• Coloradans for Coloradans opposes Amendment 69, also known as ColoradoCare, the single payer health care amendment. The committee has so far raised just over $4 million. Its biggest funders are health insurance giants United Healthcare, Anthem, Centura Health, HealthOne and SCL Health.

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

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.