9/4/08

Out-of-state labor cash floods Colorado

More worker-choice stories: here

Union members' cash used to fight against worker-choice ballot measure

Special interests so far have pumped a record $31 million into state ballot measures, led by energy giants opposing a Colorado tax measure. "We are going to see opponents and proponents investing on issues on this November ballot sums of money Colorado has never seen," said Joe Blake, president and chief executive officer of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. "These campaigns will be over and above candidate campaigns. This is serious business."

Companies such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, Williams, Noble and EnCana contributed $1 million each to raise a stunning $10 million to defeat Amendment 58, a record for a single issue campaign, according to campaign finance reports.

The measure, backed by Gov. Bill Ritter, calls for eliminating an ad valorem tax credit that currently allows energy companies to significantly cut their state severance tax. If passed by voters on Nov. 4, it would raise roughly $321 million a year - with the bulk of the money going to college scholarships. Some money also will flow into renewable energy and environmental projects.

Supporters of the measure have raised $1.63 million, with The Nature Conservancy alone contributing more than $600,000, according to filings by the campaign "A Smarter Colorado" late Tuesday.

In all, the 17 measures confirmed so far for the ballot have raised a whopping $31 million, a record high, according to campaign filings. In contrast, the combined statewide and metro-area ballot measures in the 2004 election had raised more than $14 million - surpassing the prior record of $11.8 million set in 2000.

Swing-state status draws ads

Katy Atkinson, a campaign consultant, said the competition for television air time is driving campaign costs higher for ballot measures.

The presidential campaigns are spending a lot of money on advertising since Colorado became a swing state and the state also has an open U.S. Senate seat, said Atkinson, who is working for the measure that would expand the stakes at Colorado's casinos.

"It is much more expensive to run a ballot issue campaign this year than it is in a year where there isn't quite so much competition for television time," she said.

Political analyst Eric Sondermann, said this year has seen a convergence of ballot measures affecting groups with lots of money - business, labor, casinos, and oil and gas companies.

"Between what oil and gas is going to spend against the severance tax, between the business/labor battle and the casino money, the total is heading north at a fast pace," Sondermann said.

Dan Hopkins, spokesman of Coloradans for a Stable Economy - the energy industry-backed campaign fighting Amendment 58, said television ads attacking the measure began Wednesday after the measure was formally numbered last Friday.

"We are obviously pleased with the support so far," Hopkins said. "Now, over 50 organizations - virtually every major business organization in the state - has endorsed our position, which is every bit as important as paid advertising to get our message out."

Fight began early

Industry says the measure, if passed, would hit Coloradans with higher utility bills and steeper pump prices and pit local governments against energy companies that pay significant local taxes.

Supporters of Amendment 58 began their television ads Aug. 14 because the campaign wanted to get their message out as early as possible, said George Merritt, spokesman for A Smarter Colorado.

"We were up early because we wanted people to understand that we give this $300 million subsidy to oil and gas," Merritt said. "Every million-dollar check that oil and gas companies write (to fight the measure) really underscores that Colorado taxpayers do not need to give the richest industry a $300 million subsidy. The companies are spending $10 million to buy an election."

The latest filings on other campaigns include:

* Amendment 47: Protect Colorado's Future, a union-backed committee fighting the amendment that would bar mandatory union membership as a condition of employment, raised about $570,000 last month, bringing its total donations to $3.1 million. The committee is also backing other pro-union ballot measures on the November ballot. The biggest donor last month was the union IBEW Education Fund, which gave $200,000.

The United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 7 contributed $161,234 in August to another group opposing Amendment 47, Committee for Fair Wage Benefits.

One pro-Amendment 47 group, Defend Our Economy, took in $26,000 and another, A Better Colorado, collected $15,000 during the month.

(rockymountainnews.com)

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