Billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, from New York and San Francisco respectively, are probably the best known out-of-state players in left-wing Colorado politics today. But for all the attention they get – and deserve – Steyer and Bloomberg are far from alone.
To find another tangled web of state-level campaigns and national political organizations, look no further than the “local” campaigns against energy development in Colorado. These campaigns have close ties to national groups, such as Food & Water Watch and Clean Water Action, despite the best efforts of the activists to conceal those connections.
Back in 2013, for example, activists mocked the idea of outside support from national groups as “obviously ridiculous” while they pushed a series of anti-industry measures at the local level and laid the foundation for a statewide ballot campaign. In 2014, the anti-fracking activists even told the press “this isn’t about banning fracking” to further distance themselves from national “ban fracking” groups. Instead, they cloaked themselves in the rhetoric of “local control” and insisted a series of proposed statewide ballot measures were really about “giving communities the ability to put some controls on development.”
But this cover story completely unraveled when Local Control Colorado (LCC) was caught on a strategy call with Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of environmental groups led by Food & Water Watch. As the Independence Institute’s Michael Sandoval revealed, LCC activist Kaye Fissinger – a veteran of Colorado’s first local fracking ban in Longmont – boasted on the call she was still “working to ban fracking.” The strategy call even concluded with chants of “ban fracking now.”
When those anti-industry ballot measures were abandoned, and a special oil and gas task force was established instead, a new campaign group emerged – Fracking Front Lines. While the campaign had a local face, it was funded by Clean Water Action and the Clean Water Fund, two closely affiliated groups with the same headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. Sara Lu – Colorado director for both Clean Water Action and the Clean Water Fund – told the task force the new campaign was seeking “thoughtful policy recommendations.” But this was a cover story, too.
As reported by Denver Post editorial page editor Vincent Carroll, Clean Water Action “has supported fracking bans or moratoriums in several states as well as anti-fracking events here,” including the launch of an activist coalition called Frack Free Colorado. Clean Water Action’s “idea of sound planning is apparently an industry shutdown,” Carroll wrote in 2013. This is probably because the closely affiliated Clean Water Fund has accepted at least $450,000 from the Park Foundation since 2009. This foundation, based in Ithaca, N.Y., is one of the nation’s leading funders of anti-fracking activism and is responsible for financing “the rock stars of the anti-drilling movement,” according to EnergyWire.
Today, heading into the 2016 election, the Fracking Front Lines campaign has relaunched under a new name: The League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC). It is led by Sara Lu – also known as Sara Lu Loflin – the same Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund operative who was in charge of Fracking Front Lines. As you might expect from a newly launched anti-fracking group in Colorado, LOGIC immediately denied being anti-fracking. “We are not pro- or anti-fracking,” LOGIC declared in a statement and again in an interview with The Colorado Independent. Clearly, anti-fracking activists in Colorado must be hoping public officials and the press can’t remember what happened two years ago.
Meanwhile, Kaye Fissinger – the activist who accidentally blew the whistle on “local control” groups being anti-fracking to their core – is back with a vengeance. Today, she is working with Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED) on a fresh batch of anti-energy initiatives for the 2016 ballot, including a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing. She is also helping Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch raise money, but her fundraising pitch may not help that much, because contains one damaging gaffe after another. “With help from Food & Water Watch, we ran a grassroots campaign to teach people about the harms of fracking and get out the vote,” Fissinger writes about the 2012 Longmont campaign in a Dec. 22 fundraising appeal. “Food & Water Watch has been instrumental in the success of local fights to ban fracking.”
So, there you have it. The “obviously ridiculous” idea of national environmental interests pulling the strings in Longmont four years ago – and in every Colorado anti-fracking campaign since then – isn’t ridiculous at all. It’s standard operating procedure, and by now, it should be obvious to anyone who claims to know or care about energy politics in Colorado.
Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org