The Biggest Donors Supporting and Opposing Colorado's Ballot Measures

Running or defeating a contested ballot proposal in Colorado can cost millions — and somebody needs to front the money. Sometimes the big funders are gargantuan lobbying groups from big tobacco, the oil and gas industry or mega-unions. Other times the donors are wealthy individuals taking their pet issues for a stroll. Many are political nonprofits, aka 501(c)4s, that don't have to disclose the source of their donations. Billionaires, corporations and unions not wanting their identities to be known flood cash — what critics dub "dark money" — into elections through these groups. Often donors skew toward one major political party or the other and occasionally funnel money through political action committees, or PACs.

Here is a list of the proposals you will see on the Colorado ballot and who supports each side of the debate as of this week, according to the nonpartisan election tracking site Ballotpedia.

has dug through voting records and campaign filings at the Colorado Secretary of State’s office to find out more about these donors. 

Amendment T: Slavery in the State Constitution

Amendment T would strike references to slavery from the state constitution. This is one of the few proposals that isn’t costing the campaign millions to run. The bulk of the reported money to push the constitutional amendment has come from one individual — a meditation instructor. Nobody has reported funding the scant opposition yet.

Pro: No Slavery No Exceptions Committee
Total raised: $60,959.50

Cynthia Beard: $51,000
Together Colorado Action: $4,000
Together Colorado: $1,250
James Hall: $500
Jefferson Unitarian Church: $500

Meditation instructor Cynthia Beard started donating to Colorado politics in 2014. She gave to Governor John Hickenlooper’s campaign and has donated generously to Blue Flower Action Fund, a small donor committee that works to empower Democratic, pro-choice women candidates. Beard also donated this year to an anti-fracking proposal that failed to make the ballot and to Leslie Herod, a Democrat beloved by her party’s establishment, running in House District 8.

The social-justice nonprofit Together Colorado and its political arm Together Colorado Action work with interfaith clergy statewide to promote social- and economic-justice issues. Both groups are linked to the national PICO Network, a nonpartisan, progressive-leaning, faith-based community organizing group. They are the on-the-ground force behind the no-slavery measure; however, their financial contributions have been mostly focused on a measure to raise Colorado's minimum wage. 

James Hall of Denver and Jefferson Unitarian Church don’t appear, from campaign-finance records, to be major political donors. According to campaign filings, this is the only campaign both have donated to in recent years.

Anti: No funded opposition

Amendment 69

Amendment 69 would fund a universal health-care program, ColoradoCare, statewide. Its biggest funders are health professionals, a former teacher and an attorney who have been minor Democratic donors and work together to promote universal health care. The measure's opponents are health-insurance companies and medical-provider corporations.

Pro: ColoradoCare Yes
Total raised: $820,859.39

Lyn Gullette: $168,034.00
Ivan J. Miller: $113,101.46
Ralph Ogden: $57,496.00
Eliza Carney: $43,670
Co-operate Colorado: $39,000

ColoradoCare’s biggest donations have come from the leadership of Co-operate Colorado, a universal-health-care advocacy group that contributed $39,000 to the campaign.

Lyn Gullette, Co-operate Colorado’s executive director, is a Democratic donor from Louisville, Colorado, who has contributed since at least 2009 to a variety of Democratic candidates, including ColoradoCare champion Senator Irene Aguilar, as well as to gun-control campaigns. Her contribution to ColoradoCare is the first time she has been a major donor in Colorado politics.

Psychologist and Democrat-leaning Ivan Miller has been a decades-long critic of managed health care and a proponent for reform. Like Gullette, he has been a small donor to progressive Democratic campaigns and causes. His significant gifts to ColoradoCare reflect his life’s pursuit, as an author and activist, of blasting the United States’ health-care system.

Denver-based attorney and Co-operate Colorado board secretary Ralph Ogden has been a Democratic donor since 2010. He has also volunteered as a war-crimes investigator in Kosovo and served as a humanitarian volunteer overseas.

Community organizer and Democrat Eliza Carney, the Co-operate Colorado board vice-president, worked as a high-school and college teacher and directed WHEAT, an Arizona anti-hunger organization. She has been a frequent donor to Democratic causes and candidates in Colorado since 2009, making at least 153 contributions.

Anti: Coloradans for Coloradans committee
Total raised: $4,048,293

Anthem Inc: $1,000,000
KP Financial Services: $500,000
United Healthcare Services: $450,000
Centura Health: $250,000
HealthOne System Support: $250,000

The top 49 donors to Coloradans for Coloradans, giving from $7,500 to $1,000,000, are corporations and trade associations. Anthem, Kaiser Permanente Financial Services, United Healthcare Services, Centura Health and Health One System Support all represent private health-insurance companies or medical providers.

Amendment 70: Minimum wage

Amendment 70 would raise Colorado’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Its backers include a major union with Democratic leanings and progressive economic advocacy nonprofits. The opposition comes from national and state advocates of the restaurant and hospitality industries and a Colorado-based group with strong Republican ties.

Pro: Colorado Families for a Fair Wage committee

Fairness Project: $875,000.00
Civic Participation Action Fund: $700,000.00
Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund: $650,000
SEIU C.O.P.E.: $405,000.00
National Education Association: $250,000

The Fairness Project is a political nonprofit founded in 2015 that has funded minimum-wage efforts in states including Arizona, California, Washington and Maine.

The Civic Participation Action Fund, a political nonprofit, backs efforts around racial equality and economic opportunity. The seed money from the organization came from Atlantic Philanthropies, the private family foundation of businessman Chuck Feeney, whom Forbes describes as “the James Bond of philanthropists.” Fenney has made huge inroads spending down a $7.5 billion fortune, with the intent of dying broke.

The Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund is the political action front of the Center for Popular Democracy, a policy-reform group working toward equity and opportunity.

Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education is the political front of the SEIU, one of the world’s largest unions, which has a long history of endorsing Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton. 

The National Education Association, a public education teachers' union, touts being the largest professional employee organization in the United States, boasting three million members. The group champions public education and the interests of teachers and employees who work in the schools. The union endorsed Clinton in the 2016 elections and spends the majority of its money on Democratic candidates, though it has donated significantly to Republicans, as well.

Anti: Keep Colorado Working committee
Total: $1,605,739.99

Workforce Fairness Institute: $850,000.00
Hospitality Issue PAC: $330,000
Colorado Citizens Protecting Our Constitution: $125,000.00
National Restaurant Association: $50,000
Colorado Restaurant Association: $40,000

The Workforce Fairness Institute is an advocacy group promoting the interests of business owners. The group has devoted significant resources to combating minimum-wage increases nationwide and has strong ties to Republicans. While the group claims not to be anti-union, it has a long track record of clashing with unions over legislative issues.

Hospitality Issue PAC is a political action committee associated with the Colorado Restaurant Association, a state chapter of the National Restaurant Association, which advocates for both big corporate chains and mom-and-pop Main Street restaurants alike. Both have long histories of fighting minimum-wage hikes.

Colorado Citizens Protecting Our Constitution has been donating in Colorado since 2013 and has given to conservative and Republican causes, including recalling Democratic lawmaker and state Senate president John Morse in 2013 and combating environmentalist campaigns to regulate fracking.

Continue to learn about more groups supporting and opposing measures on Colorado's ballot this year.

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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
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