California billionaire Tom Steyer, who spent more than $350,000 on research and polling in Colorado last year, is pouring even more money into his political operation in the Centennial State ahead of the 2016 election.
Through his NextGen Climate political action committee, Steyer has now spent almost $684,000 on research and polling services in Colorado this election cycle, according to federal campaign finance disclosures. A research budget of this size points to a major political operation capable of playing in several campaigns at once, including the presidential race, the effort to reelect U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D), the battle for control of the state legislature and even a series of statewide anti-fracking ballot measures.
Steyer has already spent 35 percent more on research and polling in 2015 and 2016 than he did during the entire 2014 election cycle. Back then, a roughly $500,000 polling operation in Colorado was used to support an $8.5 million campaign to save U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D). But the campaign failed, and Udall lost to U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R).
After badly missing the mark two years ago, the San Francisco billionaire and environmental activist must be hoping an even bigger polling operation will teach him what works and what doesn’t with Colorado voters. Steyer is also working more closely with local groups and individuals in Colorado left-wing politics than he did two years ago.
— ConservationColorado (@ConservationCO) June 5, 2015
As Complete Colorado first reported, Steyer spent 2015 forging close ties with Conservation Colorado, the state’s leading environmental group. In September, Conservation Colorado and another group supported by Steyer – America Votes – provided startup funding for Fairness for Colorado, a 527 political organization. The same month, Fairness for Colorado started a series of attack mailers against State Sen. Laura Woods (R).
Republicans currently hold a one-seat majority in the state Senate, with Democrats controlling the House and the governor’s mansion. By attacking Woods – whose district takes in Westminster and Arvada – this 527 group is helping Democrats in their bid to reclaim control of the state legislature and restore one-party rule under Gov. John Hickenlooper (D).
In less than six months, Fairness for Colorado has dramatically ramped up its operations. It has now raised roughly $300,000 and expanded its donor list to include two well-known figures in Colorado left-wing politics – software millionaire Tim Gill and New Belgium Brewing co-founder Kim Jordan – as major supporters.
Gill is famous for his role 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 major supporter of left-wing causes, including campaigns against the state’s energy sector. The company’s support for environmental activists campaigning against coal production in Northwest Colorado coal mine even sparked a boycott of New Belgium beer.
Another major donor is Reuben Munger, the managing partner of a “sustainable energy” investment fund in Boulder. Munger also serves on the board of the League of Conservation Voters, a national environmental group, 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. “There’s not a day that goes by that someone on our team doesn’t talk to someone on the Steyer team,” the LCV’s president told The Washington Post at the time. Steyer also worked through state-level green groups in the Pacific Northwest two years ago to help Democrats in state legislative races in Washington and Oregon.
Besides working with environmental groups to elect Democrats in state and federal election contests, Steyer is also an anti-fracking activist. He has called for a fracking ban in California, his home state, and in 2014, Steyer considered bankrolling several anti-fracking measures proposed for the statewide ballot by environmental activist groups and millionaire Boulder Congressman Jared Polis (D) – another key player in The Blueprint.
When those ballot measures were withdrawn, Steyer focused his spending on the 2014 Senate race. But the San Francisco billionaire was “clearly impressed with the thinking and the approach” behind the Polis anti-fracking measures, and the two men are “kindred spirits” on environmental issues, a top Steyer lieutenant told The Washington Post. After pulling down those measures two years ago, Polis warned he might wage another anti-fracking campaign in 2016 “when there’s a more favorable electorate.”
Today, environmental activist groups have proposed several new anti-fracking measures for the statewide ballot in November. Just as he did in 2014, Polis is falsely claiming the state’s current oil and natural gas regulatory framework fails to provide “any meaningful protections for homeowners or communities.” This suggests Polis and Steyer are ready to jump back into the anti-fracking campaign at a moment’s notice, assuming they haven’t done so already.
Less than a year ago, at a Conservation Colorado awards dinner held in his honor, Steyer warned his fellow environmentalists the 2016 election was “totally critical” to their cause. Based on the huge investment he’s already made in Colorado polling this election cycle, the California billionaire meant business. He’s leaving nothing to chance and the citizens of Colorado should brace for impact.
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.