Colorado’s “Raise the Bar” Ballot Initiative
by Jesse Coleman
September 28, 2016
Colorado's "Raise the Bar" initiative was created and funded by the oil and gas industry.
“Raise the Bar” would make it harder for people to bring ballot measures up for a vote in Colorado. It is part of a multi-year oil and gas-funded campaign to strip away democratic systems that irk the industry.
- “Raise The Bar” is a veiled effort by the oil and gas industry to preempt the threat of democratic regulatory ballot initiatives.
- “Raise the Bar” is backed by Vital for Colorado, a front group created to defend the oil and gas industry from regulations. See this map.
- 95% of the money behind Raise the Bar has come from the oil and gas industry as of October 5
- “Raise the bar” has received $2,000,000 the fracking industry front group Protect Colorado
- The PR companies behind Vital for Colorado and Raise the Bar, primarily a group called EIS Solutions, have a long history of creating front groups to defend the oil and gas industry
- The groups behind Raise the Bar have already been accused of campaign finance improprieties.
“Raise the Bar” Initiative Background
“Raise the Bar” would amend the state constitution, making it more difficult to bring measures to the ballot, and more difficult to pass them when they do make the ballot. Specifically, the measure would require 2 percent of the voting population from each of Colorado’s 35 State Senate districts to approve the measure before it would appear on the ballot.
Currently, Colorado requires 5 percent of voters who voted in the secretary of state election to approve a measure for it to appear on the ballot, but does not have a geographical requirement. “Raise the Bar” would also require 55 percent approval from voters to pass a measure, instead of the simple majority required now. This represents the most significant change in the ballot process in Colorado in the last 100 years.
8061 South Williams Circle
PO Box 5635
Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Security, known as Protect Colorado, is a 501(c)(4) group created by PR firm Pac/West Communications on behalf of the oil and gas industry. The group is an issue committee, originally formed to fight ballot measures aimed at regulating the oil and gas industry. The group is now focused on passing Raise the Bar, and has contributed $1,000,000 to the Raise the Bar committee.
]Protect Colorado has also changed its mission statement filed with the Secretary of State, allowing it to directly work on Raise the Bar as its own issue committee.
Vital for Colorado
Vital for Colorado is a 501c(4) “charitable organization” created in the fall of 2013.
- Vital is the key backer of the “Raise the Bar” initiative, providing up to $600,000 in monetary support to the effort thus far.
- Greg Brophy, one of two proponents for “Raise the Bar,” has admitted to being paid for his work by EIS Solutions.
- According to 990 tax filings, Vital for Colorado’s purpose is “to promote the benefits of energy production in Colorado.”
- Vital was set up by PR firms EIS Solutions and Starboard Group. EIS Solutions’ Josh Penry has served as spokesperson and strategist. Dan Haley, now head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), was a primary consultant and Board Member during the creation of Vital, when he was employed with EIS Solutions.
- The Starboard Group is run by Josh Penry’s spouse Kristin Strohm, who sits on the board of Vital for Colorado.
- Rich Coolidge and Chelsie Meira, two EIS Staffers, are the strategists and project managers for Vital for Colorado. Coolidge is also the press officer for the Raise the Bar committee.
- Vital for Colorado and Common Sense Policy Roundtable share an address.
Raise The Bar – Protect the Constitution Committee
The official issue committee behind the raise the bar initiative is called “Raise the Bar – Protect the Constitution.”
- The committee is staffed by EIS Solutions. Rich Coolidge, an EIS Solutions employee who runs Vital for Colorado, is the press officer. Former state senator Greg Brophy, one of two listed proponents of the measure and the chief spokesperson, is also an EIS Solutions contractor.
- The committee was formed by Jon Anderson of Holland and Hart law firm, the legal council for Vital for Colorado. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Jon Anderson is also the registered agent for the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a front group set up by Starboard Group and EIS Solutions.
- EIS Solutions and Starboard Group are both key contractors for the Raise the Bar Committee. .
The Raise the Bar issues committee is registered to this address:
5910 S. University Blvd. #C18-254
Greenwood Village, CO 80121
This is the same address as two front groups tied to EIS Solutions:
Grow Our Western Economy – Has an EIS Solutions phone number and the chairman is former EIS Solutions employee, now president of the Koch Brothers front group Americans for Prosperity, Dustin Zvonek. The group attacks people who promote local control over drilling.
Colorado Citizens Protecting our Constitution – A pro-gun group registered to Andy Nickel, this group is tied to EIS Solutions.
Governor Hickenlooper’s Support for Ballot Suppression
- Hickenlooper was present at the “Raise the Bar” kickoff. He maintains close ties to Vital for Colorado, and appeared at a luncheon hosted by Vital at the 2016 COGA oil and gas conference.
- Rich Coolidge and Josh Penry have close relationships with Hickenlooper’s staff.
- Documents obtained through open records requests show behind the scenes communication between Governor Hickenlooper and the “anti-setback campaign”. Hickenlooper was also met with oil and gas CEOs several times to discuss the 2016 ballot initiatives.
Building a Better Colorado
Building a better Colorado is a 501(c)(3) formed in 2015.
The Denver Business Journal describes the group this way:
“Building a Better Colorado is organized in such a way that it can become an umbrella group,” said former Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy, who is leading the constitutional-reform along with former Democratic state Sen. Dan Gibbs after being involved in the statewide meetings. “It’s entirely possible that there will be some crossover on pitches for funding, but no coordination on the campaigns.”
Building a Better Colorado’s website is registered by Reeve Brown, who used to work for the Cattleman’s Association (Western Energy Alliance’s Tim Wigley a board member), John Hickenlooper, and Club 20 – which has strong oil and gas ties.