A few weeks ago, Patrick Malone of the Coloradoan wrote a lede on funding for the fracking ban campaign in Fort Collins that was more than a little misleading (see what we did there?):
The Colorado oil and gas industry has spent more than $250,000 to beat back a Fort Collins ballot question that seeks to impose a five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the city. Meanwhile, supporters of the initiative have raised $3,853, according to campaign finance records released Tuesday.
To be fair, it wasn’t Malone being intentionally misleading — that’s what the campaign finance reports said. But those figures entirely distort the true picture of the funding scenario behind the fight to ban fracking outright in a number of communities across the Front Range.
A week later, Malone wrote a story that gave just a hint of the environmental organizations’ efforts that completely evade reporting on spending:
Opponents of the moratorium are suspicious that one or more powerful environmentalist political machines are lending muscle to the yes-on-2A campaign, but are invisible on campaign finance reports…
But FARE points out an advertisement on Craigslist in Denver advertising pay of $10-$13 per hour for canvassing in Colorado against “corporate zombies” in the oil and gas industry. And Clean Water Action’s $8,300 in political spending reported to the IRS in 2011, when it raised more than $8 million, raises suspicions among its opponents.
Giddens admits that Frack Free Colorado helped get the word out that the campaign wants volunteer canvassers, but she said that assistance does not rise to the level of being reported in campaign finance records.
For years, environmental organizations have paid canvassers to harass passers-by on the 16h St Mall, in front of REI and even at voters’ front doors. A quick trip to the jobs board on Craigslist will show hundreds of paid canvassing job ads for the last few months alone. Those canvassing programs don’t pay for themselves — they cost significant sums to run.
In a fight over fracking, the money spent by environmental organizations to go door-to-door telling people that fracking will give their children cancer absolutely should be reported on.
It’s big money being spent. The Washington Examiner recently totaled up the annual income for the groups fighting to ban fracking in Colorado, based on IRS filings, and found over $30 million raised in a single year. These are no mom-and-pop shop campaigns. They are professionally run campaigns by longtime political operatives.
Senator Michael Bennet’s former campaign spokesman, Trevor Kincaid, is one of those operatives using undisclosed money to fight for fracking bans in Colorado. Using a shady front group, Kincaid’s group has been launching ads, including ones we’ve seen on YouTube this week, and running a full-fledged campaign against fracking, all without reporting a single dime.
The Examiner article refers to groups like Kincaid’s as “phantom engagement centers” for their shadowy nature and decentralized approach to launching attacks:
The phantom engagement center we will track first has a name, a website and social media pages, but no address, phone or IRS tax-status recognition: It’s the Center for Western Priorities.
The CWP’s executive director is a former Senate staffer and campaign communication director, Trevor Kincaid. Its fiscal sponsor is the New Venture Fund (2011 revenue $36.5 million), whose president is philanthropy strategist Eric Kessler.
The NVF provides fiscal sponsorship for new project ideas inspired by philanthropists and foundations. Kessler also gives millions to stop Canada’s oil sands production, and is the founder and managing director of Arabella Advisors, a strategic management firm for nonprofits.
To explore all that, go online to the CitizenAudit page and enter “New Venture Fund” in the Search box — “Center for Western Priorities” won’t give you anything because it is a project of NVF with no independent existence (yes, that’s legal — sneaky, but legal).
Clearly it’s not correct to say fracking proponents are outspending fracking opponents $250k to less than $4k. In fact, in all likelihood there has been more money spent telling the public about how evil fracking is than money spent promoting the practice.
It just takes a little work to figure that out. We hope Colorado reporters roll up their sleeves and start digging.