Colorado Democrats can be awfully severe when it comes to industries they don’t like, such as oil and gas. But they can be just as forgiving when it comes to industries they do like.
In this case, their forgiveness extends to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), and includes several hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money.
In 2018, Colorado won out over a number of eager competitors for the Association’s three annual trade shows, in no small part by offering $1.7 million in “incentives” to relocate from Salt Lake City to Denver. The trade shows have been expected to produce tens of millions of dollars of economic value to the Colorado economy.
In August, however, the Association announced that it was cancelling the biggest of the three shows, the Winter Market, and would only hold two shows annually instead. As Ed Sealover reported in the Denver Business Journal, neither Governor Jared Polis nor Nathan Fey, head of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, intends to ask for even a partial refund of those incentives.
Instead, both men have asserted that the economic boost from the remaining shows, and that the downsized shows are best for the industry. Visit Denver, which will likely be unable to rebook the time at the Convention Center on such short notice, might have a different opinion. No word on whether or not the oil and gas industry might be persuaded to fill the void.
Ironically, this reticence comes at a time when other corporate subsidies and tax breaks are coming under scrutiny by the legislature. And it comes at a time when Democrats have tightened state regulations on oil and gas, sued to usurp looser local control, and joined federal lawsuits designed to preserve stricter Obama-era emissions regulations.
So what could account for the Democrats’ sudden leniency when it comes to signed agreements? Perhaps it’s because the outdoor industry has become their political allies.
Earlier this year, at the most recent Outdoor Retailer Snow Show – the last, as it turns out – the Outdoor Industry Association joined with Snowsports Industries America and the National Ski Areas Association to form the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership. The Partnership’s main political purpose is to agitate for action on climate change.
The OIA has been actively lobbying on the issue for some time at the state and federal levels, even prior to the formal announcement. Much of the emphasis is on conservation and responsible stewardship. Other aspects are more partisan and controversial.
Apparel manufacturer Patagonia was conspicuously upset over the Trump administration’s reversion of much of Bear’s Ears National Monument back to private hands – lands that had been private up until about 5 minutes before Trump took the oath of office. Indeed, the OIA cited opposition to the National Monument by local residents and the Utah government as one of the reasons for relocating from Salt Lake City.
It’s not surprising that these companies would want to leverage the federal government’s control of western lands to their advantage, and that they would join forces with the Party of Government to prevent any decrease in that control. The people who live on or near that land will just have to get along as best they can.
Unsurprisingly, OIA is all in against climate change, the holy grail of environmentalists and big-government advocates that form much of the activist backbone of the party. Their main climate page lays out the case, helpfully including effects with non-climate-related causes, while conflating carbon dioxide and, say sulfur dioxide:
“The quality of our outdoor experiences are diminished from longer, hotter summers, prolonged drought and increasingly devastating forest fires in the West; to unpredictable winters, rising sea levels, flooding, warming waters and reduced river flows. Our health is compromised by the pollution of our air, land and water.”
The group is also now aggressively lobbying for a carbon tax, but seems to be silent on how that will affect those carbon fiber trekking poles.
Better yet for the Democrats, the OIA’s words have been matched by hard, cold, campaign cash, nationally, but also here in Colorado.
Patagonia went so far as to endorse 2018 Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jackie Rosen in Nevada and incumbent Jon Tester in Montana. The Outdoor Industry Association PAC contributed $500 to the campaigns of both Jason Crow and Joe Neguse, and $3000 to the Colorado Democratic Party itself. It also contributed $5000 to Sen. Jon Tester’s hard-fought re-election campaign in Montana. Colorado Democrats who have sought to nationalize elections and issues might want to reward that behavior, as well.
Campaign contributions from employees of OIA-associated companies also overwhelmingly favor Democrats. A survey of 2017-2018 cycle contributions from employees of Colorado exhibitors at the Winter Market showed that over 90% of their contributions went to Democrats, around $40,000. That might not seem like a lot, but fair number of those were small, recurring donations to ActBlue or other aggregators, indicating both voting and volunteer enthusiasm.
Given the relatively low-level but cozy relationship between OIA, its member businesses, and the Democratic Party, citizens could be excused for interpreting the governor’s forgiving attitude as a subsidy for friendly political activism.
Joshua Sharf is a senior fellow in fiscal policy at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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