Big Spending in Boulder

Written by Common Cause Interns on September 12, 0013

Thumbnail for the dark money campaign

Written by Sean Stewart

Boulder voters and issue committees are gearing up for what will likely be an expensive election season, as a contentious ballot initiative that would hinder local efforts to form a municipal utility pits supporters of Xcel Energy against environmental non-profits and other interest groups who oppose the amendment. The initiative, Ballot Question 310, would amend the Charter of the City of Boulder to require voter approval prior to Boulder's municipal electric utility issuing any debt.

Issue committees both supporting and opposing the initiative have formed in anticipation of the election. Boulder does not currently limit the campaign expenditures of issue committees. However, it does require issue committees to disclose contributions and expenditures on a regular schedule throughout the election season. Below is a brief rundown of the campaign finance activity that has occurred so far and information on the groups involved.

Supporting 310:

  • Xcel Energy created a committee, called Public Service Company of Colorado, chaired by Regional Vice President Jerome Davis. As of August 23, Xcel Energy has contributed $14,214, all of which was expended either on labor or legal costs.
  • In addition, an issue committee called Voter Approval of Debt Limits, formed by Boulder citizens supporting the initiative, had contributions of $22,000 as of August 23 and had expended $32,075, including $14,000 on petition circulation and $12,000 on election polling.

Opposing 310:

  • Empower Our Future, an issue committee working against the initiative, made their first advertising expenditures in June. As of their last filing, the group had raised $21,647 in contributions and made $3,116 of expenditures.
  • The Sierra Club Indian Peaks Group Issue Committee had yet to make any expenditure as of August 29, but had received a $10,500 contribution from the Sierra Club. Moreover, the Daily Camera reported that the Sierra Club would be contributing $25,000 to both Empower Our Future and New Era Colorado to help oppose the bill, although the contribution has yet to appear in official filings.
  • Nonprofit organization New Era Colorado Executive Director Steve Fenberg has formed an issue committee named Voters Against Xcel Buying Elections which had raised $19,151 in contributions and expended $5,980 as of August 27, 2013, the majority on advertising and staff fees. The committee received significant contributions from New Era Colorado.

These numbers are likely to change drastically as the election gets nearer. The next required filing date for issue committees is September 24, 2013. To see a list of all current campaign finance filings, visit the City Clerk's webpage:

In addition to what has been officially reported, New Era Colorado, which is working with Empower Our Future to oppose the initiative, recently began a widely-publicized campaign on the crowdsourcing website which has raised over $144,000 with 13 days of fundraising remaining. According to the Boulder Daily Camera, New Era Executive Director Steve Fenberg has indicated that these contributions will be included in Empower our Future's next filing with the clerk's office.

The amount of money expended in this election will likely grow exponentially in the coming months. In 2011, Boulder voters narrowly approved a charter amendment allowing the Boulder City Council to form a municipal electric utility. In that election, the amendment's proponents"�most of them private citizens"�spent $106,760 campaigning for the issue. Xcel Energy spent $960,689 opposing it.

You can find more information about Boulder's election guidelines for issue committees on the city clerk's webpage, or in the PDF of their 2013 Committee Election Guidelines.

Office: Colorado Common Cause

Issues: Voting and Elections, Voting and Elections

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