2020 Election, Featured, Original Report, Proposition 118, Proposition CC, Sherrie Peif

Out of state ‘dark money’ group funding Proposition 118 a familiar name, past beneficiaries include Gov. Polis, AG Weiser

DENVER — The Washington D.C. based non-profit that spent nearly $11 million on various progressive candidates and issue campaigns in the 2018 Colorado election, is back. This time, however, the Sixteen Thirty Fund is almost single-handedly funding Proposition 118 on the November ballot, also known as the Paid Family Medical Leave Act, which would grant up to 12 weeks — 16 weeks in some cases — of paid family medical leave.

The leave would be funded by an additional payroll tax split evenly between all employees and their employer. The premiums would begin on Jan. 1, 2023 and benefits would be available beginning Jan. 1, 2024.

As of its most recent filing (Sept. 21) with the Secretary of State’s Office, Colorado Families First, the issue committee supporting 118, reports just more than $3.4 million in total contributions. Of that, more than $2.8 million is from the Sixteen Thirty Fund.

What the Sixteen Thirty Fund is not paying for, other out-of-state progressive groups are. The North Fund — which has nearly no online footprint — Working Families Party, the Fairness Project, and the ACLU have all kicked in nearly another $500,000, to account for nearly all the funds.

As a 501(c)(4), Sixteen Thirty is not required to disclose its donors because they are not tax-exempt and those supporting them are not allow tax deductions. Sixteen Thirty spent $141 million nationally in 2018 on candidates and more than 100 other issues such as fighting the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other Trump judicial nominees, as well as ballot measures raising the minimum wage and changing laws on voting and redistricting in numerous states.

In Colorado during the 2018 election, the group focused on redistricting changes to the state Constitution, wage increase propositions and payday loan regulations, among others. It also supported Democrat candidates running for state offices, including Gov. Jared Polis ($900,000) and Attorney General Phil Weiser ($600,000).

Both the North Fund and Sixteen Thirty also poured millions into Colorado in 2019 supporting the Proposition CC ballot measure, which would have permanently eliminated refunds of over-collected tax revenue under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).  Proposition CC was soundly defeated by Colorado voters.

A new law requires donor identification, regardless of whether it filters through a dark-money group, when supporting candidates but not issues. The spending then and now conflicts with one of the main platforms both Weiser and Secretary of State Jena Griswold ran their campaigns on.

Weiser has been one of the most vocal opponents of so-called ‘dark money’ groups.

“As a candidate, I will call on any group spending money on my behalf to disclose their donors, so Colorado voters know who is seeking to influence them,” Weiser wrote in a blog during his campaign.

Weiser also called out the Republican Attorneys General Association for its spending in the 2018 election.

“I am proud to run a transparent and people-powered campaign,” he said at the time. “Together, we will overcome the corrosive influence of dark money that is eroding confidence in our elections, sowing distrust in our institutions, and undermining good governance.”

However, as previously reported by Complete Colorado, Weiser’s campaign benefited from $600,000 in donations from Sixteen Thirty to Justice Colorado, which in turn spent $2.347 million supporting Weiser and against his opponent, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler.

Complete Colorado never got a response from Weiser during his campaign and cannot find that he ever publicly called on either Justice Colorado or  Sixteen Thirty to disclose the latter’s donors.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold told the Colorado Sun in a 2019 report that now “barriers are heightened as to money being directly spent on candidates,” Griswold said. The federal courts have said “the concern of corruption or the concern of quid pro quo is not there with ballot initiatives. I disagree.”

Complete Colorado also reached out to Griswold for this story, but had not heard back by press time.

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