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West view of Colorado Capitol building on Saturday July 21, 2018. (Jeremy Martinez, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Seven of the top 10 corporate and nonprofit donors in Colorado’s 2018 midterm election were oil and gas interests that combined to spend more than $34 million — a total that exceeded the campaigns for both candidates in the governor’s race.

The money primarily went to support or defeat two competing ballot initiatives. But oil and gas also spent heavily to support Republican candidates for governor and state Senate, trying to defeat Democrats who advocate for more industry regulation.

The top 10 corporate and nonprofit donors on Colorado’s elections this year combined to spend $51.6 million in all, which represented 36 percent of the total money spent by issue committees and super PACs at the state level, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of the final campaign finance filings.

Of the amount spent by these 10 organizations, 60 percent went to a single issue committee — Protect Colorado. The organization led the effort to fight Proposition 112, which sought to impose larger setbacks for oil and gas development, and support Amendment 74, which would have strengthened property rights. Voters rejected both measures.

The Protect Colorado money, which includes in-kind contributions, came largely from oil and gas companies.  

In terms of individual races, Republican candidates and committees benefited more than Democrats, receiving $7.6 million compared with $5.7 million from the top 10 donors.

For instance, the top oil and gas groups donated nearly $1.2 million to the Republican Governors Association’s national group. That’s a quarter of the $4.5 million the RGA spent supporting Republican Walker Stapleton and attacking Democrat Jared Polis in the governor’s contest.

Four of the seven oil and gas groups on the list donated a total of $340,700 to the Democratic Governors Association, which put $1.75 million into Good Jobs Colorado, the super PAC that supported Polis. None of the oil and gas groups donated directly to Good Jobs.

For comparison, Polis spent $24.4 million on his campaign — including a record $23 million of his own money — and Stapleton spent $4.3 million.

Democratic dark money group is one of top players in 2018

The top donor among corporations and nonprofits this year, Sixteen Thirty Fund, is a nonprofit focused on social and environmental policy, as well as Democratic candidates.

Because it’s a nonprofit and doesn’t disclose its donors, Sixteen Thirty is considered a dark-money group. It also helps manage other nonprofits involved in politics that aren’t included in this analysis.

Sixteen Thirty doled out its $10.8 million in spending to five ballot issue committees and five super PACs supporting Democratic candidates.

Save Our Neighborhoods received a majority of its money from the organization to help defeat Amendment 74. And Sixteen Thirty Fund gave Coloradans To Stop Predatory Payday Loans nearly all the money spent on Proposition 111 to limit interest rates on payday loans.

And Sixteen Thirty accounted for 30 percent of the $8.3 million spent by Coloradans for Fairness, the primary group helping Democrats win the state Senate. The group also donated to super PACs supporting Polis and Attorney General-elect Phil Weiser.

It’s unclear if other nonprofits sponsored by Sixteen Thirty spent money in Colorado, though two affiliated groups aired ads attacking U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, in the summer. That money isn’t included in this analysis.

Other dark-money interests spent big in midterm election, too

Rounding out the top 10 are two other dark money nonprofits, the Workforce Fairness Institute and Colorado Economic Leadership Fund.

Workforce Fairness, which opposes unions, gave nearly $2 million to Better Colorado Now, nearly $1.3 million to the Colorado Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity and $773,000 to Better Jobs Coalition — all of which supported Stapleton in the governor’s race. The latter also helped GOP state Senate candidates.

Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, which is affiliated with business group Colorado Concern, gave more than $1.2 million to four ballot initiatives: a failed income-tax hike for education; a failed bond initiative for transportation; and two successful redistricting amendments.

The economic leadership fund also donated $1.5 million to Business Opportunity Fund, a super PAC that spent more than $2 million in its efforts to elect Republicans to the state Senate.

The totals don’t include money that Colorado Economic Leadership Fund spent directly on TV ads or mailers supporting GOP Senate candidates. The group doesn’t have to report most of that spending to the secretary of state because it didn’t suggest voting for or against candidates.


Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette