Petition Circulator Paid to Leave Fracking Setback Campaign

Petition Circulator Paid to Leave Fracking Setback Campaign
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Colorado Rising for Health and Safety is limping toward August 6, when it will have to turn over 98,462 valid signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State to put a controversial oil and gas setback measure on the ballot.

Just last week, the group publicly accused signature-gathering company Direct Action Partners of allegedly absconding with about 20,000 of its signatures, which were promptly returned after the incident made national headlines. Now Colorado Rising is struggling with another signature-gathering company on its campaign after an undisclosed pro-industry group allegedly paid one of the company's subcontractors to immediately stop gathering signatures for the oil and gas setback petition known as Initiative 97.

Colorado Rising disclosed a copy of a recording to Westword in which the group alleges that a "designated agent" for signature-gathering firm Petition Connection LLC admits to Colorado Rising representatives that a competitor paid him to stop working on Initiative 97. The agent couldn't be reached for comment as of press time.

"Nobody threatened me," the agent said on the recording. "You know what they're doing. They're going around and buying people."

When asked how much he was paid and if it was worth it, he admitted to Colorado Rising boardmember Lauren Petrie and the campaign's volunteer community outreach director, Russell Mendell, that the payout "was enough" and that it "was worth it to me." He said that since he didn't have a contract with Colorado Rising — he was a subcontractor with Encore Political Services, which came in after Direct Action Partners abruptly left the campaign — that he felt more comfortable "washing his hands" of the campaign.

"Professional petition companies are not paid to believe or disbelieve in an issue," the man told Mendell and Petrie in the recording. "They're paid to come out to get the signatures needed for getting something on the ballot, and so we're not activists in the regard like what you would be. We don't have the same passion behind any issues. I don't have to actually even have a moral belief in the issue. I'm getting paid to get a job done."

All of the signatures gathered by Petition Connection LLC were turned over to the campaign. But the agent admitted that the organization that paid him to quit circulating Initiative 97 also requested that he turn over thousands of signatures, which he said he refused to do. He did not name the group that paid him to exit the campaign.

Encore Political Services, which subcontracted with Petition Connection, also abruptly quit the campaign late last week, days before its contract ended. A signature-gathering firm called 350 Colorado Action is now working with Initiative 97.

"I do hope it's worth it, because you really fucked over a lot of people. You fucked over a lot of families, you fucked over kids and you fucked over this entire state, so I do hope it was worth it," Petrie told the agent.

Colorado Rising says it has more than 100,000 signatures but that it likely needs thousands more to serve as a buffer to pass the petition audit process at the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, which torpedoed a similar anti-fracking initiative in 2016.

I-97, which would mandate 2,500-foot setbacks between oil and gas developments and certain public areas, is estimated to halt new oil and gas developments in about half the state, according to a study by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Protect Colorado, an oil and gas-funded political action committee, is pushing a competing petition called Initiative 108. If approved by voters in November, it would make the state legally and financially liable to pay mineral royalty owners who are impeded by new regulations from extracting their resources. 
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Nora Olabi covers general and breaking news for Westword with an emphasis on politics and local government. Prior to making her way to the Front Range and joining Westword in 2017, she worked at major Houston newspapers. She's a proud Houstonian who's acclimating to snow and mountain living.
Contact: Nora Olabi