Just yesterday, July 26, Colorado Rising went public with accusations that a company it hired to canvas for signatures allegedly stole about 20,000, putting the future of the grassroots environmental group's anti-fracking ballot initiative at risk of failure.
Colorado Rising filed a civil lawsuit against the firm on Wednesday night, and on Thursday it held a press conference to publicly shame Direct Action Partners into immediately returning the signatures after the company's president, Michael Selvaggio, shipped them to his office the week prior. After Direct Action Partners made headlines — including in the New York Times — over the signature dispute, seven boxes of signatures were immediately returned to downtown Denver for pickup by Colorado Rising at approximately 5 p.m. on Thursday, campaign officials say.
“It’s illegal and immoral for [Direct Action Partners] to have taken signatures that belong to the campaign,” said Suzanne Spiegel, a proponent of Initiative 97, in a campaign statement. “This blatant betrayal was an awful shock to everyone who has been working so hard to get this initiative on the ballot. The good news is we have more than 550 committed volunteers across the state, and an amazing and dedicated grassroots donor network who are fired up and who won’t let this keep us from protecting the health and safety of our communities.”
Colorado Rising needs 98,462 valid signatures for Initiative 97 to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would put 2,500-foot setbacks between new fracking sites and homes, schools and a slew of "vulnerable" areas.
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Prior to receiving the signatures on Thursday, Colorado Rising was concerned about having enough to pass the Colorado Secretary of State's petition-audit process. In 2016, a similar anti-fracking ballot initiative failed after tens of thousands of signatures were disqualified in an audit.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission estimates that Initiative 97 would effectively ban new oil and gas developments in about half the state, which prompted former Colorado attorney general and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (who is now an attorney for Anadarko Petroleum) to call the measure "unconstitutional." At an event last week, Governor John Hickenlooper argued the initiative would open the door for a "takings claim," which is a lawsuit where a landowner sues the state for lost property value because they can't extract their mineral rights.
And Colorado Association of Mineral Royalty Owners has threatened that if the initiative passes, the state would owe mineral owners in the Wattenberg Field in Weld and Adams counties up to $26 billion for untapped minerals. Protect Colorado, an industry-based super PAC, is gathering signatures for Initiative 108, which would allow mineral owners to sue the state for just that.
The deadline to turn in petitions to the Secretary of State is August 6. Colorado Rising has hired Encore Political Services LLC to gather signatures up until the deadline.