Tobacco alights at the top
By Kevin Simpson
The Denver Post
Nearly $35 million has been poured into Colorado’s statewide ballot initiatives so far this year, according to campaign finance reports filed this week, with a tobacco giant accounting for $10 million of that in its effort to defeat a tax increase on its products.
Combined with $1.7 million collected by proponents of the tobacco tax, which would fund various health-related initiatives, that makes Amendment 72 the most costly race so far at $11.7 million. The medical aid-in-dying measure, Proposition 106, has been a distant second at $6.6 million with proponents raising $4.8 million and opponents gathering $1.8 million.
Still, it could have been more. Much, much more.
“There are a number of intense fights, but this year will be known for what’s not on the ballot, what might have been if TABOR, fracking and wine-and-beer had gone forward,” said independent political analyst Eric Sondermann, noting that the three contentious issues could easily have doubled or tripled what has been raised so far. “Television would be truly unwatchable.”
Some fundraising snapshots:
Proponents of the effort to create a state-run health care system, dubbed ColoradoCare, have raised their money — $369,233 so far — almost entirely by relatively small donations, many under $100. The opposition’s $4 million has attracted six-figure support from health care players like HealthONE and Centura Health, as well as the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Substantial chunks of the $3.1 million for the measure that would raise the state’s minimum wage — an effort that has surfaced in various forms across the country — come from national groups such as the New York-based Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, which has given $650,000, and unions including Service Employees International Union, which has given $250,000. Opponents have raised considerably less, with many contributors coming from the restaurant industry. But their effort also has attracted out-of-state donors like the the anti-“Big Labor” Workforce Fairness Institute, which gave $250,000.
A political who’s who of interests has coalesced around the attempt, dubbed Raise the Bar, to make amending the state constitution much more difficult. But some energy industry players stand out. Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, an oil-and-gas financed group that amassed millions of dollars anticipating a battle over proposed fracking measures that failed to make the ballot, instead has poured $2 million into the measure so far. Vital for Colorado, a coalition of business interests that advocates for oil and gas development, along with the Colorado Petroleum Council and Whiting Petroleum Corp., have combined for nearly another $1 million.
Campaign finance reports for the three committees listed as opposing the initiative have reported only about $1,000 in contributions.
Fundraising for the effort to pass the tobacco tax has delivered $1.7 million in several five- and six-figure chunks from health care entities such as Children’s Hospital Colorado and the American Heart Association, while University of Colorado Health and University Physicians, Inc. have led the way with $250,000 each. Opposition — in two $5 million donations — comes from Virginia-based Altria Client Services and its affiliates, part of the group that owns Philip Morris.
“The fact that they’re investing and now reinvesting, they see some glimmer of opportunity or they’d not be playing at that magnitude,” Sondermann said. “That said, they remain underdogs — though big-money underdogs.”
Proponents of the medical aid-in-dying initiative have a substantial edge, with nearly all of their funding coming from the Compassion and Choices Action Network, a Denver-based, but nationally active, organization that works to protect and expand end-of-life options. Leading the largely faith-based opposition to the proposition is the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, which has contributed $1.115 million, while dioceses across the country have pitched in to varying degrees. In the latest reporting cycle, the Colorado Springs archdiocese contributed $500,000.
Propositions 107, 108
The measures to create a state presidential primary and also allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in party primaries have raised $3.7 million — notably $950,000 from Davita CEO Kent Thiry — against no discernible opposition at this point.
“If an opposition campaign is going to come together,” Sondermann said, “the time is now — if not past tense.”
Two referred measures, to clean up language in the state constitution referring to slavery and to provide a minor property tax exemption, have faced no organized opposition and raised very little money.
Two more reporting periods remain before the November election.
This article was originally published by The Denver Post.