Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
New York hedge fund tycoon George Soros has dramatically escalated his involvement in the battle for control of the state legislature, reinforcing the efforts of other left-wing groups and donors – including California billionaire Tom Steyer – in Colorado’s down-ballot races this year.
Immigrant Voters Win CO, a group funded by Soros, has spent close to $190,000 in recent weeks in a number of key state legislative races, according to state campaign finance records. The cash, mostly for canvassing voters, is boosting several Democratic candidates: Rachel Zenziger (SD-19), Jenise May (SD-25) Dafna Michaelson Jenet (HD-30), Joe Salazar (HD-31), Jason Munoz (HD-47) and Dave Young (HD-50). The money comes from a national group, Immigrant Voters Win PAC, which has received $3 million from Soros.
Ritter condemns Soros in one race, but what about others?
Soros has already made headlines in Colorado this election cycle for funding a barrage of attack ads in another down-ballot contest – the race for District Attorney in Jefferson and Gilpin counties. State records show another Soros-backed group, Colorado Safety & Justice, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to defeat incumbent Republican Peter Weir.
The huge spending by Soros in this contest has angered many, including Colorado’s former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter. “As a multibillionaire living in New York City, Soros is injecting hundreds of thousands of dollars into this race in an attempt to impose his vision of criminal justice reform on communities about which he knows nothing,” Ritter wrote in a scathing Denver Post op-ed last week.
But will Ritter similarly condemn the Soros money in state legislative races? How about the money Steyer, the San Francisco hedge fund manager and environmental activist, is pouring into Colorado to impose his anti-energy agenda on one of the nation’s top energy producing states?
‘The Blueprint’ gets an upgrade
According to the Federal Election Commission, Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action Committee has already spent more than $1.8 million in Colorado this election cycle. Of that amount, roughly $387,000 has gone to New Era Colorado Action Fund, a left-wing voter turnout operation that tries to look independent by publishing its own “voter guide” for federal, state and local races.
The vast majority of Steyer’s spending in Colorado this election cycle – roughly $1.2 million – has gone into research and polling, however. Back in May, when Steyer’s research and polling budget was roughly two-thirds of that amount, one of Colorado’s top political analysts called it “extraordinary.” Polling is “typically a modest percentage of your overall campaign spending,” Floyd Ciruli said in an interview at the time.
“With that amount of money, he’s looking for vertical control of the ballot, taking over the state for his environmental agenda,” Ciruli said. “If you’ve heard of the Blueprint, this could be the Greenprint.”
“The Blueprint” was an effort launched by left-wing donors and political organizations more than a decade ago to put Democrats in control of the Colorado state legislature, using millions of dollars of coordinated spending from outside groups. This year, the Blueprint model appears to have undergone a major upgrade, with Steyer and Soros playing key roles.
Steyer-backed groups go on the attack
One of the leading attack dogs for Democrats in state legislative races this year is Conservation Colorado, a group with very close ties to Steyer. In just one race – Senate District 19 – the group has vowed to spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in an effort to defeat incumbent Republican Laura Woods. With Republicans holding a one-seat majority in the state Senate, and Democrats already controlling the House, her defeat would put the left back in control of the state legislature.
Steyer’s NextGen Climate committee has given $200,000 to Conservation Colorado’s campaign arm for use in state legislative races. Conservation Colorado’s national parent organization, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), has also given $200,000 to the campaign. Last election cycle, the LCV took hundreds of thousands of dollars from Steyer and coordinated with the California billionaire on a daily basis, according to the Washington Post. And Conservation Colorado has contributed another $475,000 to its own campaign arm, money that is effectively untraceable because the group – as a 501(c)3 non-profit – is not required to disclose its donors.
Senate District 19
In Senate District 19, Conservation Colorado had spent more than $140,000 attacking Woods with negative advertising, including “misleading” claims about her approach to managing public lands, according to the Denver Post. Another $125,000 in negative advertising was paid for by American Wind Action, a group that favors renewable energy mandates and subsidies.
Other groups on the left, including Education Reform Now Advocacy, the American Federation of Teachers and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, are funneling hundreds of thousands of additional dollars into the effort to defeat Woods and their broader strategy to put Democrats in control of the state legislature. And then there’s even more spending from the Soros-backed group – Immigrant Voters Win CO – in support of Rachel Zenziger, the Democrat running against Woods in SD-19.
A similar pattern is playing out in other key state legislative races.
Senate District 25
In Senate District 25 – an open contest – Republican candidate Kevin Priola has been targeted by the campaign arm of the Colorado Citizens’ Alliance. The group’s biggest donors include the campaign wing of Conservation Colorado, the National Education Association Advocacy Fund and software millionaire Tim Gill – a key player in the Blueprint.
Another major donor is America Votes, a coalition of liberal interest groups that aims to “build progressive power in the states.” Soros is a major supporter of this group, according to hacked e-mails recently released by Wikileaks.
But that’s not all. Remember, Priola’s opponent – Democrat Jenise May – is also benefitting from the money Soros has poured into SD-25 and five other state legislative contests via Immigrant Voters Win CO.
Senate District 26
In Senate District 26, another open contest, Republican Nancy Doty has been targeted with hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside money from the campaign arms of the Colorado Citizens’ Alliance and Conservation Colorado. But television advertising and direct mail from these two groups isn’t all. Another organization, Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, is funding the campaign to defeat Doty as well. This money has largely been spent on promoting the Democrat in the race, Daniel Kagan, with some of those expenditures overlapping with other state legislative races.
As you might expect, there is a national organization behind this spending – Planned Parenthood Votes, headquartered in New York. The group has a number of donors, to be sure, but once again Soros is a key player. In this election cycle alone, the New York billionaire and members of his family have donated $3.5 million to Planned Parenthood Votes.
$4 million in left-wing cash (for starters)
We won’t know the full scale of the left’s spending in Colorado politics this year until after the election. But the handful of groups surveyed here – NextGen Climate, Immigrant Voters Win CO, Colorado Safety & Justice and the campaign arms of Conservation Colorado, the Colorado Citizens’ Alliance and Planned Parenthood – have spent well over $4 million so far in the state’s down ballot races.
More to the point, the meter is still running, Election Day is still two weeks away, and most importantly, there are many more groups involved besides the ones profiled here.
To put this in some perspective, the Senate Majority Fund – an organization working to defend the Republican majority in the State Senate – has spent a little less than $1.7 million so far this election cycle. And the Denver Business Journal recently noted that Republicans “don’t have a national benefactor chipping in to state Senate elections” like Steyer or Soros.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Since the beginning of the year, this column has documented the growing involvement of left-wing, out-of-state billionaires in Colorado’s down-ballot races. In January, it was obvious that Steyer had big plans, and the involvement of Soros became clear in August.
Both men are leading members of the Democracy Alliance, a coalition of left-wing political donors which Politico calls “the left’s secret club.” It has steered hundreds of millions of dollars to liberal causes over the past decade, and in this election cycle, winning state-level races is one of its top priorities.
“We can’t have the kind of long-term progressive future we want if we don’t take power in the states,” Democracy Alliance president Gara LaMarch told the Washington Post last year.
Soros and Steyer: Flying under the radar
To be clear: Soros, Steyer and the other donors of the Democracy Alliance have every right to promote their ideas and spend how they wish in politics, as we all do under the First Amendment. But Colorado voters deserve to know about their role in this year’s elections and what their political agenda would mean for our state. Instead, Colorado’s political press has been largely fixated on spending from the right.
This means Colorado voters still don’t know why two billionaires from New York and San Francisco, and other national players in left-wing politics, care so much about who wins our down-ballot races this year. But rest assured, if their plan works, we will find out after the election what they want from the candidates they supported, and from us.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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.