LOMAX: Broomfield paper trail leads to Sierra Club and other ‘Big Enviro’ groups
National environmental groups have a First Amendment right to campaign at any level of government they choose – federal, state or local – just as the business community, energy workers and regular citizens have free-speech rights to oppose these campaigns.
For the record, I work on the pro-business side of the street with a group that opposes many of these environmental campaigns because they divide our communities and threaten real harm to Colorado’s economy. I make no secret of it.
Yet for some reason in Colorado, national green groups have tried to conceal their involvement in state and local politics. Their campaigns have been relaunched and rebranded many times, with a seemingly endless supply of names: Frack Free Colorado, Coloradans Against Fracking, Fracking Front Lines, North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy, and so on.
It’s a curious strategy because the methods of national environmental groups haven’t really changed and their fingerprints can still be found by anyone willing to look. Take the current campaign in Broomfield over Question 301, a ballot initiative pushed by oil and gas opponents.
“This is the fourth anti-fracking effort here in as many years,” veteran political reporter Shaun Boyd of CBS Denver recently reported. “I’ve covered them all and it’s the same players – Big Oil versus Big Enviro.”
It started in 2013, when San Francisco-based Sierra Club joined Food & Water Watch and Clean Water Action of Washington, D.C. to push an oil and natural gas development ban in Broomfield – Question 300. It was one of several local campaigns designed to set the stage for a statewide ban. As you might expect, the state’s oil and gas industry was a big donor to local “vote no” campaigns.
Four years later, environmental activists are pushing a new anti-oil and gas measure in Broomfield. Question 301 would declare “plenary authority” over the oil and gas industry, seizing control from hundreds of state-level regulators and putting the city solely in charge.
Despite warnings from Broomfield’s city attorney about the legality of the measure and the prospect of costly litigation, two committees have been formed to support Question 301. One of those committees, called “Citizens for a Safe and Healthy Broomfield,” is registered to the same address as the Sierra Club’s regional office in Denver.
Sierra Club has an annual budget of more than $100 million and pushes a “none of the above” approach to energy issues. Last year the group gave $234,000 toward statewide anti-oil and gas initiatives, but those measures failed to make the ballot after petitions were delivered to state officials in half-empty boxes and some signatures were apparently forged.
The other committee supporting Question 301 is called “Broomfield Health and Safety First, a project of LOGIC Action.” LOGIC is short for the League of Oil & Gas Impacted Coloradans, a group based in Boulder County.
Last year, as an associate analyst with the free-market Independence Institute, I wrote about the origins of LOGIC. It was established two years ago by Clean Water Action and the Clean Water Fund. The state director of the two national groups – Sara Loflin – filed the paperwork to create LOGIC and then became executive director of the new entity.
In Broomfield, LOGIC petitioned officials to put Question 301 on the ballot and gathered signatures, according to city records. It has also handled communications and press for the “vote yes” campaign and co-hosted events. As the committee’s name would suggest, Question 301 really is a project of LOGIC.
But Broomfield Health and Safety First’s campaign finance reports obscure LOGIC’s role. The committee’s Oct. 17 report shows zero financial or in-kind contributions from LOGIC. Instead, Loflin – LOGIC’s executive director – reported a personal in-kind contribution of less than $2,000 for her work as a “consultant” to the Question 301 campaign, which began in June.
You can say the same for the committee registered to the Sierra Club’s office in Denver. That committee, Citizens for a Safe and Healthy Broomfield, disclosed zero contributions or expenditures in an Oct. 17 report.
By comparison, the committee opposing the ballot measure – Vote No on 301, Don’t Let Them Divide Broomfield – isn’t holding anything back. It has disclosed large contributions from Colorado’s oil and gas sector and groups representing the wider business community, including the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund.
Vital for Colorado, where I work as a research fellow, even announced its $100,000 contribution in a press release, along with comments from the Metro North Chamber of Commerce and Pipefitters Local 208, who also oppose Question 301.
“We are facing groups tied to the Sierra Club in San Francisco and Clean Water Action in Washington, D.C.,” Karen Nelson, registered agent for the Vote No on 301 committee, said in response. “We cannot hope to defeat these groups alone, so the support we have received is both needed and welcome.”
Clearly, one side of the debate believes in transparency, while the other has something to hide. But if one of Colorado’s top political reporters wasn’t fooled, there’s no reason to think Broomfield residents will be misled either.
Simply put, anti-oil and gas groups are underestimating the voters. That usually doesn’t end well.