The Biggest Donors Supporting and Opposing Colorado's Ballot Measures

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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.

Westword 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.

Amendment 71: Ballot measures

Amendment 71 would require people collecting signatures for statewide ballot initiatives to secure signatures from each of the 35 senate districts and would require a 55 percent super-majority to pass constitutional amendments.

This proposal has been touted as having strong bipartisan ties. The biggest funding has come from the oil and gas industry, big-business interests and groups working to defeat anti-fracking campaigns. Many of these organizations have strong Republican ties but also fund business-friendly pols across the aisle. The groups fighting against Raise the Bar also span the political spectrum, but many have one thing in common: Their bread and butter comes from drafting and promoting ballot measures. 

Pro: Raise the Bar Colorado - Protect Our Constitution committee
Total: $4,214,385.50

Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence: $2,000,000.00
Vital for Colorado: $600,000
Colorado Petroleum Council (American Petroleum Institute): $600,000
Colorado Concern: $160,000
Colorado Gaming Association: $150,000

Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence was an issue committee formed to fight anti-fracking initiatives. These donations are its first contributions directly to a campaign.

Vital for Colorado is a coalition of oil-and-gas industry advocates banded together to combat environmental regulations that corporations say would hurt their profit margins.

The Colorado Petroleum Council is the state’s chapter of the American Petroleum Institute, a national trade organization for the oil-and-gas industry.

Colorado Concern is a coalition of chief executive officers from corporations who have united to create a business-friendly climate in Colorado. They are fighting ColoradoCare, trying to reform construction-defects laws, and backing a number of legislative races, including Republican Jessica Sandgren and Democrat Leslie Herod. The group also supports the Senate Majority Fund, the Republican political-action committee working to maintain GOP control in the Statehouse.

The Colorado Gaming Association, once known as the Casino Owners of Colorado, is a nonprofit championing the interests of the casino industry. They have donated to measures that would impact their industry as well as the Republican Senate Majority Fund.

Anti: Raise the Rafters! Vote No on 71, Vote No on 71, Citizens for Integrity Issue Committee, and Colorado League of Responsible Voters

National Education Association: $500,000.00
Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education: $92,000.00
Colorado AFL-CIO: $22,000.00
Citizens in Charge: $10,534.00
Independence Institute: $5,020.62

The Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education has been donating money to politics since at least 2000. The group has backed Democratic causes and fought the conservative push to control school boards.

The Colorado AFL-CIO is a massive union that largely endorses Democratic candidates and is a major financial and political force behind multiple ballot measures.

Citizens in Charge is a national group that advocates in states to make it easier for citizens to propose and pass ballot initiatives.

The Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank and a major nonpartisan force with strong Republican ties, is combating ColoradoCare and the cigarette tax. The group has a long history of advocating against gun regulations, and for that matter, all regulations.

Amendment 72: Cigarette tax

Amendment 72 would increase the tax on cigarette packs from 84 cents to $1.75. The big bucks behind this proposal come from health-advocacy groups, hospitals and medical trade associations. The opponents, who have thrown down more than $17 million, come from big tobacco.

Pro: The Campaign For a Healthy Colorado 2016
Total: $2,247,467.89

American Heart Association: $300,465.00
University Physicians, Inc.: $250,000.00
University of Colorado Health: $250,000.00
Children's Hospital Association: $230,000.00
Colorado Community Health Network: $135,809.00

The American Heart Association is a massive nonprofit that works to reduce cardiac arrests.

University Physicians, INC provides business support to the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine. Their political contributions in Colorado are limited to this measure.

University of Colorado Health is the system of hospitals and clinics run out of the University of Colorado.

Children’s Hospital Association is the national group advancing the interests of children’s hospitals that has contributed significantly to a handful of issues on the ballot.

Anti: No Blank Checks in the Constitution committee
Total: $17,419,103.44

Altria Client Services LLC $17,412,654.00

International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association $6,449.55

Altria is the parent corporation of cigarette giant Phillip Morris USA, the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, and cigar manufacturers John Middleton.

International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association is a worldwide trade association for tobacconists. This will be their first donation to a Colorado ballot measure.

Proposition 106: End-of-life options

Proposition 106 would allow doctors to assist patients, who have been given six months or fewer to live and are of sound mind, in ending their lives. The biggest donors are the political arm of a nonprofit advocating for medically assisted suicide and individuals. The measure’s opponents’ money comes largely from Christian groups, most of whom are Catholic.

Pro: Yes on Colorado End of Life Options
Total: $5,353,173.77

Compassion and Choices Action Network: $4,500,000.00
Charles Hamlin: $25,000.00
Alison Cantrell: $11,000.00
Jaren Ducker: $10,152.28

Compassion and Choices Action Network is the political arm of an advocacy group working to expand end-of-life options. This is their first set of major donations to a Colorado measure.

Charles Hamlin, who is registered as a Democrat, has donated to candidates from both parties since he supported Democrat Bill Ritter for governor in 2009. This year, Hamlin is also backing ColoradoCare.

Alison Cantrell is an unaffiliated voter who has donated to the campaign of left-leaning Democratic Representative Joe Salazar.

Antiques and jewelry dealer Jaren Ducker has been donating to Democratic races since 2009. She has served on the boards of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, the Denver Public Library Commission and the ACLU of Colorado.

Anti: Coloradans Against Assisted Suicide, No Assisted Suicide Colorado committees
Total: $2,510,580.00

Archdiocese of Denver: $1,600,499.00
Roman Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs: $500,000.00
Diocese of Pueblo Colorado: $135,000.00
Colorado Christian University: $50,000.00
Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas: $25,000.00

The Catholic Archdiocese of Denver has donated a few times in Colorado politics, making its most notable contribution, $20,000, to combat same-sex marriage. The archdiocese’s spending on this ballot initiative is unprecedented for the organization.

This will be the Roman Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs’ first foray into political spending on ballot measures.

The Diocese of Pueblo has given little to political causes.

Colorado Christian University, the home of the Western Conservative Summit, has strong Republican ties, has never contributed to a ballot initiative, and has donated very little in the past: $23.11 to the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee.

Proposition 107 and 108: Presidential Primaries

Proposition 107 would bring presidential primaries back to Colorado and make them open to all voters. Proposition 108 would allow unaffiliated voters to vote in a major party primary without first affiliating with that party. Both measures are backed and opposed by the same major funders. Members of both parties tend to be split on whether to have primaries instead of caucuses and to open up voting to non-party members.

Pro: Let Colorado Vote committee
Total: $3,491,665.00

Kent Thiry: $1,083,000.00
Open Primaries, Inc.: $250,000.00
Bill Price: $150,000.00
Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce: $100,247.50
Colorado Concern: $100,000.00

Kent Thiry is the zany CEO of DaVita, a multibillion-dollar kidney-dialysis company. He is a major backer of Democratic candidates through political-action committees.

Open Primaries is a national organization that advocates for states to hold open primaries rather than caucuses, because closed primaries shut out unaffiliated voters.

Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce is an advocacy group for Colorado corporations that has contributed to both political parties.

Anti: Citizens for Integrity Issue Committee
Total: $8,942.42

Recht Kornfeld $4,000.00
Citizens for Integrity $2,344.42
Martha Tierney $1,200.00
Siegel Public Affairs $1,000.00

Recht Kornfelt is a Denver-based law firm where Democratic establishment heavyweight attorney Mark Grueskin works.

Citizens for Integrity is a firm Grueskin has represented as recently as 2011 that has donated to a variety of political causes.

Martha Tierney is another Democratic player and Colorado-based lawyer associated with the progressive group Colorado Common Cause.

Siegel Public Affairs is a lobbying group that has fought for comprehensive sex ed in K-12, the Job Protection and Civil Rights Act of 2013, andthe Family Care Act of 2013, among other progressive causes. 

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