A group with ties to billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer is preparing to unleash a torrent of direct mail, TV spots and other paid media against Republicans in the state legislature this year. Fairness for Colorado, a 527 political organization, stepped up fundraising in late 2015 and retained the services of several direct mail and political advertising firms, according to state campaign finance disclosures. The group also recruited two well-known figures in Colorado Democratic politics – software millionaire Tim Gill and New Belgium Brewing co-founder Kim Jordan – as major donors.
Gill is a central figure in “The Blueprint,” an effort launched by left-wing donors and political organizations more than a decade ago to put Democrats in control of the Colorado General Assembly. New Belgium is also a big supporter of left-wing causes and candidates, including campaigns against the state’s energy sector. In one case, the company’s support for environmental activists trying to shut down a Northwest Colorado coal mine even sparked a boycott of New Belgium beer.
The involvement of these players in the creation and rapid expansion of a 527 group strongly suggests that environmental activists are working more closely than ever before with other left-wing constituencies to sway the outcome of Colorado elections this year.
— ConservationColorado (@ConservationCO) June 5, 2015
Fairness for Colorado, established in mid-2015, started with $60,000 from two donors – Conservation Colorado and America Votes. As Complete Colorado revealed in early January, both Conservation Colorado and America Votes are closely aligned with Steyer and his political action committee, NextGen Climate, which spent more than $350,000 last year on research and polling in Colorado. By September 2015, Fairness for Colorado was targeting State Sen. Laura Woods (R), whose district takes in the cities of Arvada and Westminster, with direct mail.
Republicans won control of the state Senate by a single seat in 2014, and Democrats retained their majority in the House. Therefore, defeating Woods could restore one-party rule under Democrats until Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) leaves office in early 2019.
Since those first two donations, Fairness for Colorado has ramped up quickly. The group has raised roughly $300,000 thus far, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. America Votes, a self-described “permanent campaign” for “building progressive power,” is the group’s biggest donor, contributing a total of $140,000. Gill has donated $50,000 and Jordan with New Belgium has given $25,000.
Another notable donor is Reuben Munger, the managing partner of a “sustainable energy” investment fund based in Boulder, who gave $25,000. Munger also serves on the board of the League of Conservation Voters, alongside Conservation Colorado’s executive director Pete Maysmith. The LCV is a national environmental group that worked hand-in-hand with Steyer during the 2014 election.
Thus far, Fairness for Colorado has spent more than $210,000 establishing its political operation. More than $75,000 went to Washington, D.C.-based Gumbinner & Davies, which claims to be “one of the top direct mail firms in the country for Democratic campaigns and progressive institutions.” Roughly $32,000 was spent with The Strategy Group in Chicago, another direct-mail firm, which has worked in state legislative races all the way up to presidential contests, including President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “For more than 20 years, nobody in the Democratic Party has earned more high-profile victories than The Strategy Group,” the firm says on its website. Almost $22,000 was spent with Mail Masters, a direct-mail firm in Denver.
Fairness for Colorado’s campaign finance disclosures also suggest the group is preparing TV ads. The group spent almost $21,000 with AL Media in Chicago, a TV and digital production studio serving Democratic campaigns, and more than $20,000 with a media buyer based in the nation’s capital.
Fairness for Colorado is just one of many political organizations, of course. But the paper trail from this one group reveals a compelling trend: Big environmental donors and big environmental groups are joining forces with the architects of The Blueprint to win control of the state legislature.
Do the Republicans know what’s about to hit them, and will they be ready to respond? There’s a lot riding on the answer to that question, for both the left and the right.
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