This is the third article in a series called “Following the Money” where we examine the money spent in support of and opposition to various ballot measures in Colorado. To read the first two, visit our website www.cleanslatenow.org.
Amendment 72 would increase the Colorado state sales tax on a pack of cigarettes from $0.84 to $2.59 per pack. To see how this money would be spent, you can read the summary in the “blue book” here.
Unlike the last two ballot measures, the committees on both sides of this ballot measure are funded almost exclusively by non-individual contributions. The purpose of this analysis is for you to look at the contributors and decide for yourself what their motives are. There is a large fundraising disparity between the two sides as well as the biggest single contribution we’ve ever seen spent against a Colorado ballot measure.
The committee behind Amendment 72 is called “The Campaign for a Healthy Colorado.” So far they have raised over $2.1 million. Let’s look at their top ten donors:
|UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO HEALTH||DENVER, CO||Corporation||$250,000.00|
|CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL COLORADO||AURORA, CO||Corporation||$200,000.00|
|AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION||DALLAS, TX||Corporation||$150,000.00|
|AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION||DALLAS, TX||Corporation||$150,000.00|
|UNIVERSITY PHYSICIANS, INC.||AURORA, CO||Corporation||$150,000.00|
|UNIVERSITY PHYSICIANS, INC.||AURORA, CO||Corporation||$100,000.00|
|COLORADO BEHAVIORAL HEALTHCARE COUNCIL||DENVER, CO||Corporation||$85,000.00|
|COLORADO COMMUNITY HEALTH NETWORK||DENVER, CO||Corporation||$74,473.00|
|HEALTHIER COLORADO||DENVER, CO||Corporation||$69,496.05|
|COLORADO HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION||GREENWOOD VILLAGE, CO||Corporation||$55,000.00|
The average donation to this committee is around $22,000, with just under a hundred total contributions. The vast majority of contributors to this committee are healthcare companies, just like the ones above. There are a few individual contributions to this effort, but only a tiny amount relative to the total amount raised. We’ll leave it to you to decide what the motives are behind these contributions. It’s possible that these organizations have no motivation other than the belief that higher taxes will lead to fewer smokers and a healthier Colorado. It’s also possible that these organizations stand to benefit financially from the tens of millions of dollars in new tax dollars that will be spent on health related programs if this measure passes.
Now let’s look at the committee against Amendment 72 called “No Blank Checks in the Constitution.” So far they have raised over $17 million to defeat this measure. Normally I’d post the top ten donors to this committee, but there actually aren’t even 10 different donors:
|ALTRIA CLIENT SERVICES LLC & ITS AFFILIATES||RICHMOND, VA||LLC||$17,412,653.89|
|INTERNATIONAL PREMIUM CIGAR & PIPE RETAILERS ASSOCIATION||WASHINGTON, DC||Business||$6,449.55|
|CORE-MARK INTERNATIONAL INC.||SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA||Corporation||$1,143.43|
As you can see, Altria is almost exclusively funding this committee and is now one of the biggest spenders on any Colorado ballot measure, ever. Altria is one of the world’s largest tobacco companies. This is the company behind such brands as Basic, Marlboro, Parliament, Skoal, Virginia Slims, and many more. We may not know the motives of the health companies behind Amendment 72, but with annual profits of around $11 billion, we know exactly what Altria’s motives are. Altria wants to keep as many Coloradans smoking as possible and is prepared to spend a boatload of money to make sure that happens.
There are special interests and corporations on both sides of this issue, but the opposition definitely has taken corporate spending to new heights. At CleanSlateNow.org we prefer when campaigns and committees finance their efforts with small donations from a broad coalition of voters. However, we recognize we aren’t there yet and many issues are supported primarily by opposing special interest groups. When this happens all we can do is research the groups in question and try to determine their motivations, along with the impacts of the legislation or ballot measures they’re backing.
Executive Director, Clean Slate Now
One of the most controversial ballot measures Coloradans will be voting on this November is Amendment 69, also known as Colorado Care. In short, Colorado Care would establish a statewide system to provide healthcare for all Colorado residents. My goal is to give you an unbiased look at how the proponents (a committee called Colorado Care Yes) and opponents (a committee creatively titled Coloradans for Coloradans) of this ballot measure are funding their respective efforts.
A quick personal note before we jump into the numbers- I cannot help but notice the irony of writing about healthcare today. I’m at a hospital sitting by my father’s side as he fights for his life against an aggressive form of cancer. I’ve been following the debate over Colorado Care for around a year now, and it is a debate that I’m glad we’re having. Regardless of how you feel about this particular amendment, I hope we can all agree that our healthcare system is broken. It costs far too much and it falls short for far too many people. It certainly fell short for my dad. Personally I’m open to a wide array of potential solutions, as long as we are debating our options in good faith and earnestly working on changing this system for the better. People’s lives depend on it.
Colorado Care Yes has raised around $782,000 to support this ballot measure. Coloradans for Coloradans has raised just over $4,000,000 to defeat the measure. How has the opposition managed to raise 5 times as much as the folks behind Colorado Care? Let’s compare the contributions received from individuals with contributions from non-individuals (corporations, PACs, etc.) for both of these committees. First we’ll examine that $4 million raised by Coloradans for Coloradans:
Over 98% of that $4 million comes from non-individuals; this money is from corporations, PACs, and various other interest groups, which we will breakdown further. Now, let’s look at this same metric for the Colorado Care Yes committee.
It’s interesting that these pie charts are almost perfect mirror images of each other. From this single metric, we can plainly see that the opposition to Colorado Care is funded almost exclusively by corporations and interest groups, and the pro-Colorado Care folks are funded almost exclusively by individuals. Already we can make some sense of the fundraising disparity.
Before we break down these contributions to try to determine the motives of the donors behind these committees, let’s do some averaging:
The Colorado Care Yes committee has received over 4,000 separate donations with an average size of around $160. The Coloradans for Coloradans committee has received under 400 separate contributions with an average donation of around $10,000.
Next I want to further analyze the non-individual donations for the Coloradans for Coloradans committee and maybe we can shed some light on their motives. Here’s a list of the top ten donors:
|KP FINANCIAL SVCS OPS||Business||$500,000.00|
|UNITED HEALTHCARE SERVICES, INC.||Business||$450,000.00|
|HEALTHONE SYSTEM SUPPORT||Business||$200,000.00|
|MOUNTAIN WESt LOCKTON COMPANIES,||LLC||$100,000.00|
|CIGNA HEALTH AND LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY||Business||$60,000.00|
This is the smoking gun. First, we could see that the opposition to Colorado Care has raised a large amount of money, then we could see that the money is coming almost exclusively from a small number corporations and interest groups, and finally we can see that they are large insurance companies who stand to lose money if Colorado Care passes. The insurance company Anthem is alone responsible for a whopping 25% of this committee’s funds. Anthem is based in Indiana and reported an annual profit of $2.5 billion last year on $79 billion in revenue. Now let’s look at the top 10 biggest contributors to the Colorado Care Yes committee:
Based on this data, I believe it’s fair to say that Colorado Care Yes is financed primarily by thousands of people in Colorado sending in modest amounts, with a handful of generous contributions that were likely necessary to get the 95,000 signatures needed to put the amendment on the ballot. Colorado Care, and healthcare in general, is a complicated issue that deserves a vigorous and informed debate. While it takes money for both sides to participate in that debate, corporations spend orders of magnitude more than groups of people could ever hope to raise. This often prevents an even, rational debate from taking place.
Whether you support or oppose this measure, I hope we can all see the danger here. By allowing companies to spend unlimited amounts of money on and against these ballot measures, we’ve given them de facto veto power over any legislation they perceive to be a threat to their revenue stream. Even if you agree with them this time around, the larger problem is corporations and interest groups manipulating the political process to protect or grow their bottom line.
This is the second article in a series we’re calling “Following the Money” where we investigate the funding sources in support or opposition of ballot measures. If you want to stay up to date please get in our contact list here. For the source of these numbers visit the Colorado Secretary of State’s website here.
Clean Slate Now, Executive Director
This November Coloradans will not only vote for a new President, but we will also decide on several ballot measure questions. Many of these ballot measures deal with complex subjects that engender passionate debate and discussion. While disagreement is a necessary part of discourse, problems arise when one side of an issue has access to enormous financial resources and the opposition does not. As long as special interest groups can spend unlimited money in lieu of gaining real support from the people, our system will always favor the wealthiest side of an issue. At Cleanslatenow.org we are dedicated to creating a democracy that is free from the political inequities that plague a system financed by unlimited, untraceable money.
One way we can push back against these special interest groups is to follow the money being spent for or against these ballot measures. Our goal isn’t to take sides, but to illuminate the unequal fundraising methods and potential motives behind some of the ballot measures.
First up is Amendment 71. This amendment would amend Colorado’s constitution in order to, wait for it, make it more difficult to amend the constitution. Here’s how- In Colorado one way we can amend our constitution is to collect roughly 98,000 signatures from registered voters over a 6 month period. If that is done successfully the ballot measure question is placed on the ballot for the people to decide. If a majority of voters (50% +1) vote yes, the amendment is adopted. Amendment 71 would make this process more difficult in two ways. First, it would require that 2% of the total signatures be collected from all 35 of the Colorado Senate Districts; secondly, it would require 55% of votes for an amendment to be successful (except when the vote is to repeal a part of the constitution).
There are certainly people who believe in this amendment. You may even be tempted to think there are huge amounts of people supporting it because the committee currently sending out supportive mailers has so far raised $28 million dollars. The truth is that wide-ranging public support is not why they were able raise so much money. Who is really behind this effort? All you have to do is follow the money.
The committee with the big money supporting this amendment is called “Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence”. Let’s take a look at their top donors. These donors represent 92% of the $28 million raised. To see the source of these figures for yourself, visit the Colorado Secretary of State’s page here.
|ANADARKO PETROLEUM CORP||$10,665,235.00|
|NOBLE ENERGY INC||$9,115,235.00|
|WHITING OIL & GAS CORPORATION||$1,550,000.00|
|BAYSWATER EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION||$1,525,000.00|
|COLORADANS FOR RESPONSIBLE ENERGY DEVELOPMENT||$556,605.00|
|SYNERGY RESOURCES CORPORATION||$450,000.00|
|EXTRACTION OIL & GAS||$400,000.00|
|PIONEER NATURAL RESOURCES||$300,000.00|
Remember that current requirement for Constitutional amendments that requires 98,000 signatures before they can even make that ballot? It turns out that collecting enough signatures to pack a Broncos game is no small feat, especially if the effort is made up of people who don’t have millions of dollars to spend. In fact, it is so difficult that several potential amendments dealing with the oil and gas industry didn’t collect enough signatures to make the ballot. These amendments would have restricted the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in various ways. While they weren’t successful in getting on the ballot, let alone passing, what they DID do is scare the daylights out of the oil and gas industry. The reason so many oil and gas companies (many from outside of Colorado) want to make our constitution more difficult to amend is because they want to make it harder for anti-fracking amendments to pass. It’s really that simple.
Whether or not you think the oil and gas industry should be subject to additional regulations, or whether you believe the constitution should be more difficult to amend or not, the injustice here is the fact that the voters of Colorado don’t have $28 million dollars to spend to wage an equally persuasive campaign.
The real discussion we need to have on this issue won’t happen if one side has an oil and gas financed megaphone capable drowning out all opposition. This industry is using its enormous financial reserves to push a ballot measure on Coloradans who don’t have access to the same financial resources. This is what democratic inequality looks like and this is a prime example of why all of us have to invest in fixing the way we finance our political campaigns.
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Voting is important for a working democracy. Here are some famous quotes and slogans on the importance of voting. (Thanks to Niki Bornes for originally compiling this list).
We could shout it from the rooftops on a daily basis, but don’t take it from us. Take it from these guys and gals (you may have heard of a few):
“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” – Lyndon B. Johnson (36th U.S. President)
“A man without a vote is a man without protection.” – Lyndon B. Johnson (36th U.S. President)
“Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.” – William E. Simon (63rd U.S. Secretary of Treasury, Philanthropist)
“Always vote on principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” – John Quincy Adams (6th U.S. President)
“Ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors to bullets.” Abraham Lincoln (16th U.S. President)
“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” Abraham Lincoln (16th U.S. President)
“To vote is like the payment of a debt, a duty never to be neglected, if its performance is possible.” – Rutherford B. Hayes (19th U.S. President)
“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – John F. Kennedy (35th U.S. President)
“I am sure that every one of my colleagues – Democrat, Republican, and Independent – agrees with that statement. That in the voting booth, everyone is equal.” – Barbara Boxer (Democratic Senator – CA)
“The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th U.S. President)
“Those who stay away from the election think that one vote will do no good: ‘Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm. – Ralph Waldo Emerson (Author)
“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd U.S. President)
“Although our interests as citizens vary, each one is an artery to the heart that pumps life through the body politic, and each is important to the health of democracy.” – Bill Moyers (Journalist, TV host)
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” – Pericles (Prominent Greek Statesmen)
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The national debate on regulation of guns in America has reignited in Washington, DC recently. According to polls conducted for years by Gallup, Americans have long been divided on whether or not gun regulations should be made more strict.
While general questions about gun regulations tend to show a divide in America, some specific policies are widely supported. For example, Gallup found last October that 86% of Americans favor universal background checks for all gun purchases in the U.S. using a centralized database across all 50 states. Other polls have found similarly high support for universal background checks over the past several years. (Under current law, background checks are required for sales by federally licensed gun dealers. However, background checks are not required for gun sales by private sellers.)
Despite this broad support, votes to require universal background checks have repeatedly failed in Congress over the past few years. (To be clear, CleanSlateNow.org does not have a position as an organization on the regulation of guns).
As one can easily imagine, millions of dollars have been spent in the last few years by groups on both sides of the debate over universal background checks and other changes to the law.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, groups favoring new and stricter gun safety regulations have spent an average of $1.9 million dollars a year over the last several years on lobbying Members of Congress. Those opposing new regulations have spent an average of $12.9 million dollars a year.
Groups have not limited themselves to lobbying, though, as Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show significant campaign spending by both sides, including through political action committee (PAC) contributions to candidates, as well as independent expenditures by Super PACs and Dark Money spending. (For a detailed explanation of PACs, Super PACs, and Dark Money, please see the note at the bottom of this message).
Pro-Gun Safety Regulation Groups
Among pro-gun safety regulation groups, virtually all recent campaign spending and fundraising have come through independent expenditures by just two groups. A Super PAC affiliated with the organization Americans for Responsible Solutions has raised $8.8 million dollars in the current election cycle and raised over $21 million dollars in the 2014 election cycle. Just over half of their contributions were from small donors who gave $250 or less in the election cycle.
The organization Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund supplemented that spending in 2014 election cycle with $334,000 of Dark Money spending. They are not required to disclose their donors who paid for this spending, though billionaire Michael Bloomberg has been quite public of the years about providing financial support to the organization.
According to FEC reports, there has been no pro-regulation PAC that has donated to candidates for Congress in recent years.
Anti-Gun Regulation Groups
Several groups that oppose additional regulation of guns in America have raised significant sums of money to support their preferred candidates. The National Rifle Association alone spent over $15 million dollars in the 2014 election cycle, including nearly $1 million in direct contributions to candidates through their PAC and more than $14 million dollars on independent expenditures to help their favored candidates. Complementing the NRA’s efforts, six other anti-gun regulation PACs raised a combined $1.2 million to encourage candidates to oppose gun safety regulations.
Of the PAC money raised by these groups, the vast majority (89%) of their funding in the last election cycle came from small contributors who gave less than $250 per election cycle. In addition to this spending, the organization’s affiliated “Institute for Legislative Action” spent another $12 million in Dark Money. The original source of these funds is unknown.
Our research reveals two key findings regarding groups involved in the debate over gun regulations in America:
1) The NRA and other groups that oppose gun regulations provide far more financial support for candidates who vote their way than do pro-regulation groups; and
2) Groups that favor gun regulation rely heavily on Super PACs and Dark Money while providing no PAC money for candidates who vote their way.
Given this tremendous imbalance in campaign funds favoring candidates who oppose stricter regulation of guns, it is not especially surprising that Congress has not passed legislation requiring universal background checks. Voters may favor background checks by better than an 8 to 1 ratio, but campaign funders oppose them by 3 to 1.
Explanation of PACs, Super PACs, and Dark Money
Special interest money comes in three mains forms – contributions from Political Action Committees (PACs) or independent expenditures by Super PACs or as “Dark Money.” An independent expenditure is spending to support or oppose a candidate that is not controlled by or coordinated with any candidate campaign.
PACs: At the federal level, PACs raise money from individuals and donate it directly to candidates’ campaign committees. Federal law limits the amount any one person can give to a PAC to $5,000 per year and how much a PAC can donate to a candidate to $5,000 per election (a “primary election” counts as a separate election from the general election, so PACs can donate $10,000 to a candidate committee in an election cycle).
PACs are required to disclose information about anyone who gives them at least $250 and how they spend that money (including which candidates receive their donations).
Super PACs do not face the same limits as traditional PACs, as they can accept money from individuals, corporations, unions, and just about any other entity from the United States, including other PACs, Super PACs, and Dark Money groups.
Super PACs are required to disclose information about anyone who gives them at least $250 and how they spend that money (including which candidates receive their donations).
Like Super PACs, Dark Money spending is not limited in source or amount. Any individual or organization can donate unlimited amounts to Dark Money spending groups. These groups can take a variety of forms, from 501c4 corporations, Limited Liability Companies and Corporations, for-profit corporations, individuals, and nearly any other legal entity.
The only disclosure requirement on Dark Money spending is that money spent for or against a candidate must be disclosed, but the source of those funds does not have to be disclosed.