Five years ago, a business-led political coalition that included Republicans, Democrats and a broad range of business, labor and environmental groups came together to pass Referendum C, a measure which permanently eliminated the state TABOR ratchet and temporarily suspended other TABOR provisions.
After the measure passed, the coalition dissolved, and Colorado politics returned to its normal fractious state.
Today, some of the same forces in the coalition that supported Referendum C are now back for another fight: to ensure that Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101 fail on the November ballot.
While Referendum C was not universally supported by elected officials, particularly in El Paso County, the local coalition against the “terrible threesome” of 60, 61, and 101 includes virtually every elected official, every business and non-profit leader, and every community group in the Pikes Peak region.
“I don’t know of any elected official who supports (the measures),” said City Councilman Sean Paige. “All the cloak and dagger stuff surrounding them is kind of a turn-off. I don’t see why the people (who supported and financed the effort to put them on the November ballot) don’t just come clean.”
While supporters of the three measures have remained in the shadows, the opponents are anything but anonymous. Advocates report raising only $12,262 to fund their campaign. Foes of the measures, led by Coloradans for Responsible Reform, report having amassed $5.7 million.
Reflecting the nonpartisan nature of the opposition, those in the fight include the Service Employees International Union, the Denver Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Progressive Coalition, the Kaiser Foundation, the Colorado Contractors Association, AARP, the National Education Association, the Colorado Education Association, The Anschutz Corp., and the Colorado Association of Realtors.
The two largest contributors, the Denver Chamber of Commerce and the National Education Association, rarely see eye-to-eye on political matters. In this case, the NEA/CEA ponied up more than $600,000, while the chamber wrote a check for $500,000.
Local contributors to Coloradans for Responsible Reform are equally bipartisan and include accountant A. Marvin Strait and Griffis/Blessing Executive Steve Engle, along with Bethesda Senior Living and the Broadmoor Hotel.
The all-Republican El Paso County Board of Commissioners unanimously endorsed a resolution opposing the measures, as did the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. The City Council is expected to approve such a resolution next week, although not unanimously.
“I’m against (the measures),” Paige said, “but I don’t support these kind of resolutions.”
Despite their non-partisan lineup and impressive bankroll, opponents may have a difficult time getting out their message.
“I’m not seeing any grassroots effort to convince ordinary voters,” said Vice Mayor Larry Small, who opposes the measures. “They’re going to meetings and getting statements from elected officials, but I don’t know whether that will be very effective.”
Contribution and expenditure reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office give some indication of the opponents’ game plan.
Of the $5.7 million raised so far, less than $280,000 has yet to be committed. Most of the funds, amounting to nearly $5 million, have been dispersed to Colorado Media & Mail.
The organization has neither a website nor a physical address. It is not clear what services it provides, or whether it simply serves as a conduit to direct funds to other vendors. Similar campaigns have used advertising agencies or other third parties to make TV, radio, and print buys, as well as contract with vendors who help get out the vote.
Asked about Colorado Media & Mail, Christy Lelait, a longtime political activist and current executive director of the El Paso County Democratic Party, was nonplussed.
“I’ve never heard of them,” she said.
But although opponents are careful to avoid revealing their strategy to supporters, they’ve made an interesting tactical decision.
As Colorado Springs Chamber CEO Dave Csintyan confirmed this week, campaign spokespeople will come from the conservative side of the political spectrum, to better persuade right-leaning voters to oppose the measures.
That strategy was clear at a kickoff rally three weeks ago in Colorado Springs, as opponents such as Csintyan, Attorney General John Suthers, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley and Michael Gifford of the Colorado Association of General Contractors took the stage. Prominent local Democrats watched with approval, but none spoke.