While activists pushing a slate of ballot initiatives targeting Colorado’s energy industry continue to dodge questions about who is bankrolling their efforts, a new report detailing how San Francisco billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer is ramping up his political spending in the state raises questions as to whether this “biggest of mega-donors” is backing the campaign.
The latest attempt to brush off reporters asking questions about the campaign’s financial backers comes in a story featuring Tricia Olson, Executive Director of the group pushing the initiatives for the 2016 ballot, Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development or CREED. As the Colorado Springs Gazette reports:
“Olson said not all of the measures will be taken to the ballot. There’s a long process ahead to set official language, make sure the measures adhere to Colorado rules for initiatives and gathering signatures to put them on the ballot. Olson declined to disclose who was funding the effort.”
Yet even as Olson refuses to disclose her group’s donors, new information shows that Steyer, best known for spending big in Colorado’s 2014 Senate race, is once again targeting the state with political spending that could make its way to CREED’s coffers. Writing for Complete Colorado, EID’s Simon Lomax uncovered recent campaign finance disclosures showing that Steyer’s political operation has been pouring money into a Colorado consulting firm for “research” and “polling” services. Lomax writes:
“According to a review of federal campaign finance disclosures, Steyer’s political action committee – NextGen Climate – spent more than $357,000 on research and polling services in Colorado during 2015. In fact, from Jan. 1 to Nov. 31, NextGen put more money into Colorado research and polling firms than it spent on national outfits based in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Disclosures for December 2015 aren’t due to the Federal Election Commission until the end of this month.”
Steyer’s interest in Colorado politics is well known. In fact, it has been reported that Steyer’s representatives explored financially backing a similar pack of ballot initiatives proposed in 2014. With those initiatives abandoned before going before voters, Steyer maintained his presence in the state by directing his resources toward bolstering then Colorado Senator Mark Udall’s reelection campaign. Udall still lost to Republican challenger Cory Gardner.
More recently, Steyer returned to Colorado where he was recognized as Conservation Colorado’s 2015 “Rebel with a Cause,” a move that EID highlighted at the time as evidence of his ambition to be a major political force in the state.
Though Conservation Colorado is best known for lobbying the state government on environmental issues and heavily influencing state and local campaigns, Steyer’s visit came as the group was showing signs of adopting an increasingly extreme stance on oil and natural gas development. Just a few months before announcing Steyer’s appearance at their “gala,” the group’s “Coming Soon Arapahoe” campaign, a multimedia and direct mail blitz designed to turn public opinion against oil and natural gas development, was so extreme that it drew a sharp rebuke from Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe:
“Following the collapse of the Don’t Frack Denver campaign, Arapahoe County appears to be the next victim of the anti-fracking movement. Another group, Conservation Colorado, targeted our county by releasing a map aimed at scaring Arapahoe County residents into thinking drilling was arriving in their backyard at any moment. However, in reality, current state regulation specifies setbacks of 500 feet from residential units and 1,000 feet from schools.”
While Steyer has refused to tell the voters of Colorado what his plans are, it is certain that he continues to run his political machine in the state. Savvy political observers will soon know if this latest effort to ban fracking in the state has attracted the funding necessary to mount a competitive initiative campaign. And if they have, it will become increasingly difficult for backers to brush off and dodge questions from reporters looking to shed light on who is behind this newest iteration of job-killing initiatives that threaten Colorado’s economic well-being.