When it comes to campaigns around amendments, there are Davids and Goliaths 

Million-dollar persuasion

click to enlarge When it comes to getting initiatives passed by voters, money counts. Some campaigns have a lot more of it than others. - JRCASAS /SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • JrCasas /Shutterstock.com
  • When it comes to getting initiatives passed by voters, money counts. Some campaigns have a lot more of it than others.

If you think Amendment 69, otherwise known as ColoradoCare, is a bad idea, you're in good company.

A recent Colorado Mesa University-Rocky Mountain PBS poll of 540 Colorado voters found that 56 percent oppose the plan to provide universal health care for state residents.

Some might say that's because people like their health insurance plans, fear the effects of a big tax increase, or are skeptical that the plan could pay for itself ("Visualize universal coverage," News, Aug. 17).

Of course, there is another explanation: Big business and interest groups have pumped untold millions into Amendment 69 opposition campaigns ahead of the November election.

In politics, money talks. And this election season, as voters face down seven citizen-driven statewide initiatives — many of them deeply controversial — some campaigns have more funding than others. That certainly rings true when it comes to what are arguably the state's most progressive proposals: Amendment 69 and Amendment 70 (which would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020).

Coloradans for Coloradans, the most well-known anti-69 campaign, had raised $3.97 million as of Sept. 14, according to Colorado Secretary of State filings. A second anti-69 campaign, Colorado Health Care Choices, had $475,519.31 in contributions, all of it from the Colorado Health Care Institute, a recently established 501(c)4 that doesn't have to reveal its donors. (It is not associated with the similarly named Colorado Health Institute, which has released studies on Amendment 69.)

Meanwhile, an Americans for Prosperity representative says the Koch brothers-backed group is running its own "six-figure" campaign against Amendment 69, though it doesn't have to reveal its finances under the law.

In contrast, ColoradoCareYes, the pro-Amendment 69 group, has raised just $745,690.86 since its founding in 2015. In 2016, it's raised $321,706.37. That hasn't been enough to pay for the TV commercials that anti groups have funded.

Amendment 70, on the flip side, appears to be the Goliath in its race. The same poll that shows Amendment 69 losing, has Amendment 70 winning with 58 percent support.

Backed by labor union dollars, Colorado Families for a Fair Wage had brought in $2.3 million by Sept. 14 compared to the opposition campaign, Keep Colorado Working, which had raised $636,884.99 in that time period, Secretary of State's Office documents reveal.

However, things may be looking up for Keep Colorado Working, which just purchased — or as their spokesperson puts it "reserved" — $2.3 million in TV ads.

Sean Duffy, spokesperson for Coloradans for Coloradans, says he's not ashamed of where his campaign's money is coming from.

"Of course the business community's very concerned about Amendment 69," he says. "And, in addition, companies that operate now in health care, health insurance, understand the real threat that this very poorly crafted amendment presents to the quality of health care."

ColoradoCare, which would create a Medicaid-like health insurance system that would cover all Coloradans through a 10 percent tax, has been divisive, drawing opposition from many business groups, health insurance groups, medical facilities and associations, as well as a large group of powerful politicians, including many of the state's top Democrats.

On the other hand, ColoradoCare also has some important allies, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Gloria Steinem and Noam Chomsky. What ColoradoCare doesn't have, however, is the big donors the anti groups have.

Some major funders of the Coloradans for Coloradans campaign include health insurer Anthem, Inc. ($1 million); health insurer Kaiser Permanente Financial Services Ops ($500,000); health insurer United Healthcare Services Inc. ($450,000); Denver hospital system HealthONE System Support ($250,000); health care provider Centura Health ($125,000); the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce ($100,000); Colorado Association of Realtors ($100,000); insurance brokerage firm Mountain West Series of Lockton Companies, LLC ($100,000); Cigna Health and Life Insurance ($100,000); Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America ($100,000); and the health care organization and hospital family SCL Health ($100,000).

Duffy notes that 56 percent of his campaign's donations are under $100, and says the campaign isn't just doing an expensive ad blitz; it's been going for months to community meetings, from Rotary Clubs to HOAs, and debating representatives from the opposing campaign.

"It's been a very energetic campaign, and we've got I think 1,100 groups and individuals have signed on to oppose Amendment 69," he says, noting that the Colorado Medical Society, which opposes 69, found that 78 percent of physicians who responded to their query also opposed the measure.

But here's the twist: From a fundraising standpoint, Amendment 69 appears more popular with individuals than the anti campaigns. In 2016 alone, ColoradoCareYes had 3,620 donors, more than 99 percent individual people.

To put that in perspective, that's more than 10 times the donors that Coloradans for Coloradans has. (Coloradans for Coloradans, by the way, lists about 275 individual people who have donated to its campaign in its filings.)

Owen Perkins, spokesperson for ColoradoCareYes, says the opposition is anything but grassroots, calling their contributions "a who's who list of big medicine and big pharma." Perkins says he thinks big insurers could probably handle losing Coloradans as customers, but he believes that they are fighting 69 because the system would be effective, and within a few years, it would be duplicated in other states before becoming a nationwide system.

"If you can buy an election, they're well on their way," he says. "But we're certainly hoping that Coloradans will do as they've done in the past and be able to make decisions regardless of advertising."

Notably, the biggest contributors to ColoradoCareYes are individuals, and only two have given more than $100,000. No donor has yet reached $200,000 in donations.

Perkins says many volunteers have been knocking on doors and manning phone banks, and he's hoping the Sanders group Our Revolution may boost the campaign by making calls on ColoradoCare's behalf.

Patty Kupfer, campaign manager for Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, which is supporting Amendment 70, says it may look like her campaign is on the path to victory, but she's cautious.

"I think that we feel like we're in a fairly strong position, however the hardest part is when you're the 'yes' campaign you have to get on the ballot first and that cost us almost a million dollars," she says.

Kupfer adds that the opposition campaign, Keep Colorado Working, appears to have recently received a large donation that it will not need to disclose for weeks. She notes the anti-70 campaign, which has reported raising less than $1 million, recently purchased $2.3 million in TV ads.

Kupfer suspects that one of two major funders is footing the bill: The National Restaurant Association (the Hospitality Issue PAC, funded by the National Restaurant Association, has given $200,000 to the anti campaign so far) or the Workforce Fairness Institute, an organization that insists on its website that it's not anti-union, which has contributed $250,000 to the anti campaign.

Tyler Sandberg, campaign manager for Keep Colorado Working, says none of that is true. He says he simply "reserved" the ads, in hopes of raising enough to cover the costs.

Kupfer says she isn't buying it.

"That's 100 percent not true," she says. "You can not reserve one minute without paying for it."

(The Indy checked with Nick Matesi, general manager of KKTV Channel 11, for insight on the argument. In a way, he says, both campaigns are right. TV stations often allow campaigns to "pre-book" time, he says, but won't run a campaign ad until they have a check. KKTV also has a two-week cancellation policy. Generally, he says, campaigns don't book time unless they expect to have the money to pay for it.)

But Sandberg has some bombs of his own to lob. He says he isn't getting big funding because the wage increase wouldn't hurt big businesses; it would hurt tiny ones. (The only other major funder of the anti campaign so far is Colorado Citizens Protecting Our Constitution, a nonprofit group that previously targeted lawmakers who voted for gun control. It's given $75,000.)

"We're up against bottomless pits of big labor union money," Sandberg says.

Colorado Families for a Fair Wage does have a number of major funders, including: the Civic Participation Action Fund ($500,000), a 501(c)(4) that does not have to reveal its donors, which gives to organizations and projects that "promote racial equality, expand civic engagement and increase economic opportunity for low income communities and communities of color"; the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund ($350,000), another 501(c)(4) with a "pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial and economic justice agenda"; the Fairness Project ($336,132.07), a labor union-backed fund aiming to raise the minimum wage in states across the nation; the Service Employees International Union ($250,000); the National Education Association, or teachers union, ($250,000); the Sixteen Thirty Fund ($114,500), another progressive 501(c)(4); and the New Venture Fund ($110,781.32), a 501(c)(3) which focuses its energy on "conservation, global health, public policy, international development, education, disaster recovery, and the arts."

Sandberg says his campaign, on the other hand, is supported by small businesses that can't afford to give their employees a big raise and stay in business — particularly if they're located in a rural area. He says Amendment 70 would have gotten more support from businesses if it had allowed for a different rate of wage increases for small businesses and rural areas.

"Everyone deserves to make a living wage," he says, "but it's what the businesses can afford."

But Kupfer says that people across the state need a raise — and she thinks claiming that businesses will go broke is a scare tactic. After all, she points out, Colorado added thousands of jobs in the two years following its last bump in the minimum wage, in 2006.

"I find it pretty cynical," she says, "that they are willing to spend millions and millions of dollars to keep from giving Coloradans a raise."

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