New groups are joining the fight over ballot measures days before the election

Issue committees have raised about $80 million this election cycle, most of which will go toward fighting one question: Prop. 112

A man in Boulder who opposes Prop 112. (Photo by John Herrick)

Outside groups hoping to sway your vote on key ballot questions are on track to break spending records this year.

Issue committees – which have virtually no limits on how much they can accept or spend – have raised more than $80 million this election cycle for ads and messaging on ballot measures ranging from oil and gas setbacks to funding for transportation projects.

By the next reporting deadline on Dec. 6, the spending amounts are likely to exceed the $88 million that issue committees spent on ballot measure campaigns in 2016.

Protect Colorado, the committee that has raised the most money related to a ballot issue, seeks to convince voters not to pass new regulations for oil and gas drilling under Proposition 112. That measure would increase the distance oil and gas rigs must be set back from homes, schools and other “vulnerable areas” one-and-a-half to five times.

The committee has drawn nearly all its money from oil and gas companies, raising about $41 million, according to campaign finance records filed with the Secretary of State. It has bankrolled the red and white billboards and campaign yard signs and coined the slogan “don’t set Colorado back.”

Proposition 112 has been organized by a grassroots committee called Colorado Rising, which is backed by progressive organizations like Progress Now and 350.org. State records show it has raised about $1.3 million.

The latest campaign finance reports covering the year through Oct. 29 did not include spending from new groups that formed late last month to fight Proposition 112. They include the ExxonMobil Colorado Issue Committee and No on 112. The Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity-Colorado Issue Committee started weighing in on that fight against Proposition 112 by buying digital ads last week.

A group called Logic Action 2018 formed to support Proposition 112 last month. It has not yet reported any contributions or spending.

It’s likely that by the Dec. 6 reporting deadline, those newly registered groups will have pushed spending this election cycle well past 2016 levels.

Protect Colorado has proposed a measure of its own, Amendment 74, that would amend the state constitution so that property owners can be compensated for any loss in property value caused by government regulations. The committee has spent about $11 million on this campaign. The group paying for ads, however, is called the Committee for Colorado’s Shared Heritage.

The grassroots group opposing Amendment 74 is called Save Our Neighborhoods, which has raised $6.6 million mostly from environmental groups such as Conservation Colorado and the League of Conservation Voters. It has also raised money from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization based in Washington, D.C. that does not have to disclose its donors.

Here is a breakdown of some of the other ballot measures:

Related: Key Colorado ballot initiatives have corporations spending tens of millions for your vote

Education

Amendment 73 would boost funding for K-12 schools through a progressive income tax on residents earning more than $150,000 per year.

Great Schools, Thriving Communities, an issue committee backing the initiative, is mostly funded by teachers’ unions and education advocacy groups. It has raised about $1.5 million. 

Groups opposing the income tax have raised nearly the same amount. A group called “Blank Check. Blatant Deception. Vote No on 73,” which registered with the Secretary of State in September, has raised $1.4 million to oppose the measure.

The group’s website describes the committee as a coalition of business interests, including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Its top funders include the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, a conservative PAC, and Ready Colorado, a conservative education advocacy group. 

In October, the Americans for Prosperity-Colorado Issue Committee spent about $14,500 on digital ads and mailers opposing Amendment 73. 

Transportation

Proposition 110 calls for an increase in Colorado’s sales and use tax rate for road repair projects as well as new sidewalks and bike lanes. The group backing this measure, Coloradans for Coloradans, has raised $7 million. The largest donor is the Colorado Construction Industry Coalition, a 527 committee that can pay for ads with certain restrictions and funnel money to campaigns.

Opposing Proposition 110 is a group called Fix Our Damn Roads. The issue committee is also pushing a transportation funding option that would issue bonds without raising taxes to pay for road and bridge projects. It has raised about $736,000. Nearly all its money comes from the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank headed by Jon Caldara, radio host and former chairman of the Regional Transportation District board. 

Redistricting

A proposal to change the way Colorado draws and approves district lines for members of Congress and the state Legislature has attracted about $6.5 million in contributions. Much of the campaign’s support has come from Kent Thiry, the wealthy CEO of the Denver-based kidney dialysis company DaVita, Pat Stryker, who founded and serves on the board of directors of the Bohemian Foundation (which is among The Independent’s donors), and America Votes, a progressive nonprofit.

There are no registered committees fighting this ballot measure.

Payday Lending

The effort to cap the annual percentage interest on payday loans, also known as deferred deposit loans, at 36 percent is being mostly bankrolled by the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a dark money nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors. The committee, Coloradans to Stop Payday Predatory Lending, has raised more than $2.1 million to support the measure. 

No committees are registered with the Secretary of State explicitly opposing the measure.  

The election is on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The Dec. 6 reporting deadline will mark the final disclosure of the election cycle.  

For more on the statewide ballot measures, see our previous coverage.

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