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BRUCE'S GENEROUS PALS

Frederic Hamilton, who sold Hamilton Oil but still keeps a finger in the oil and natural gas business, gave $11,000. Members of the Leede family, formerly of Leede Exploration of Midland, Texas--the company moved to Denver in 1988--together wrote checks to Benson's campaign for $10,000. Wolf Energy, another Denver oil firm, contributed $5,000.

All this may mean nothing. On the other hand, thanks to some legislation passed last year, the next governor will, if he desires, have the ability to indirectly influence the regulation of the fossil-fuel business in this state.

Senate Bill 177, which was passed last spring and which went into effect two months ago, gave the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission greater authority to regulate the industry. For instance, the commission may now issue cease-and-desist orders if it suspects an operation poses an emergency threat to the environment.

In addition, the legislation specifies who shall serve on the commission. Before SB177, the only restriction on the commission's makeup was geography: Members had to reflect different regions of the state. The new law, however, allows for up to five of the seven members to be representatives of the gas and oil industry. Members are, of course, appointed by the governor.

Sparrow says that Benson will appoint as many talented and educated people as possible to assist him as he runs the state, without favor to any particular industry.

The Drugs, Alcohol and Death Connection

Three of Benson's more generous contributions come from Carrollton, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. Health Mart Inc. of Colorado gave $3,500 in July. National Intergroup, Inc. wrote Benson a check for $7,500 at the same time. FoxMeyer Corp. handed over the same amount. A fourth company, National Intergroup Realty Corp., of Maryland, gave Benson another $3,500.

Although listed separately, the companies are all related. Each is part of National Intergroup. The company owns 80 percent of FoxMeyer, which, in turn, established Health Mart Inc. of Colorado to enable independent pharmacies to contract with managed health-care groups.

All are in the drug business. National Intergroup is the nation's third-largest distributor of pharmaceuticals, selling prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and health and beauty supplies.

Why would Texas drug companies want to give money to Bruce Benson? One reason may be last year's Senate Bill 98, a "freedom of access" bill supported by the Colorado Pharmacists Association. It would have allowed patients to go to the pharmacist of their choice.

Although it was passed by both the state House and Senate, Governor Romer vetoed SB98 last April. Val Calnins, executive director of the pharmacist association, says FoxMeyer has been very supportive of the organization's activities. He adds that the Colorado Pharmacists Association intends to reintroduce the bill in the coming legislative session.

The alcohol connection is more tenuous. Sure, Peter Coors of the Coors brewing brood gave Benson $10,000. But more crucial could be J.V. Saeman, who ranks No. 35 on the Denver Post list of the 100 richest Coloradans. He is known for other reasons, too.

Saeman was one of two men who reportedly confronted cable pioneer Bill Daniels in 1985 in a Phoenix hotel room about Daniels's severe alcohol problem (Daniels's brother was the other). The strategy apparently worked, and Daniels entered treatment.

With Benson's revelation that he was arrested twice in the early 1980s for drunk driving, having Saeman on board could come in handy--particularly if Benson suffers a relapse.

And what does Benson have to do with death? Well, start with the fact that the GOP candidate is a breathless supporter of greater use of the death penalty.

In his "Plan for Fighting Crime in Colorado," Benson promises, among other things, to "work for passage of a constitutional amendment to pave the way for enactment of an effective death penalty statute." He vows to "work with Colorado's congressional delegation for the defeat of the federal legislation which, if enacted, would nullify the death penalty in the United States" and to "appoint judges who are willing to enforce the death penalty."

Left unsaid in the plan is how Benson would like to see Colorado prisoners snuffed. Depending on the answer, it could explain the three campaign contributions from Tim Travis.

Although it doesn't like to advertise the fact, Travis's Eaton Metal Products Co. is very much vested in the execution of criminals. After all, it has a monopoly on gas chambers in the United States.

Eaton sold its first chamber to California in the mid-1930s for $5,000. In a description of the product, which now stands in the Death Penalty Wing of the San Quentin State Prison Museum, an Eaton official boasted that "our calculations show that this new chamber should snuff out life in about fifteen seconds." Although Eaton built its last gas chamber--which was sold to the state of Maryland for $25,000--in 1958, the company still keeps a gas-chamber inspector on board to check the equipment before it is used.

The last time this state killed anyone officially was on June 2, 1967, when Jose Luis Monge was put to death in an Eaton Metal gas chamber in Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility. (It was the second chamber Colorado purchased from Eaton; the first one was delivered in the 1930s.)

In 1988, however, the state legislature passed a law mandating that, if anyone ever is put to death again in Colorado, it needs to be by lethal injection. So two years ago the gas chamber was dismantled and moved to the state Prison Museum in Canon City.

end of part 2

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