We're in the last lap of voting season, which means the fliers, robocalls and door-to-door canvassers are piling up faster than heaps of dead leaves. But some of the biggest spenders in this off-year election aren't your usual crowd of school board hopefuls, tax hikers and pot crusaders: They're the fracking industry, represented by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, and your gas-happy utility, Xcel Energy. Together, those juggernauts are pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns to defeat local efforts to restrict and even drive their operations out of town.
As we previously reported, early campaign finance filings show that COGA has already contributed more than $600,000 to defeat initiatives in four Front Range communities -- Boulder, Broomfield, Lafayette and Fort Collins -- aimed at banning or imposing a lengthy moratorium on new oil and gas drilling. Backers of those ballot measures, a combination of grassroots and environmental groups concerned about possible health risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," are being outspent on an exponential scale in each of those contests.
And the latest report from Fort Collins indicates that COGA has tossed another $141,000 into defeating a five-year moratorium on drilling in that city, bringing its total contributions in that single arena to just under $400,000. Much of the money, funneled through a group calling itself Fort Collins Alliance for Reliable Energy (FARE), is apparently going to fliers, canvassing and some scary ads that critics consider anything but fair. The Fort Collins Coloradoan has opposed the moratorium but also recently denounced FARE for "partial truths," "underhanded tactics" and "headshakingly embarrassing" ad claims -- not to mention reprinting a couple of columns first published in the newspaper without permission.
"This pseudo-local alliance is little more than a front for the state's oil and gas lobby," the paper's editorial writer seethes. "More than 99 percent of their funding comes from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, with local figurehead [and former mayor] Ray Martinez standing out as the only other donor, chipping in $100."
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Meanwhile, Boulder voters are getting peppered not only with COGA money aimed at defeating that city's proposed moratorium and well-funded campaigns from both sides of two other ballot questions -- competing proposals on the question of whether the city should hand Xcel its walking papers and develop its own municipal utility. As this update in the Denver Post details, Xcel has spent in excess of $550,000 pushing a measure that requires voters to okay any bonds issued for a municipal utility, essentially dooming the effort, while proponents of dumping Xcel have poured more than $300,000 into a proposal to acquire Xcel's infrastructure and kick out the company.
Will Big Energy's Big Money persuade voters to stick with the status quo? With about the last few hours of campaign bombardments still to come, it's difficult to see past the fog of battle. But if past performance is any indication of future results, don't expect the air to clear anytime soon.
More from our Environment archive: "Fracking bans: Industry cash raised to fight them tops $600,000."