A group has been formed to fight the city of Longmont’s proposed ban on fracking that is going to voters in November, and one of the state’s most prominent political consultants has been enlisted to lead the effort.
It may become a repeat of what Longmont saw in the 2009 and 2011 elections, when telecommunications companies poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into efforts to defeat a measure allowing the city to use its own fiber-optic network. Corporate executives denied that their motivation was to deter a threat to their market share, and while they helped defeat the initiative in 2009, thanks in large part to an industry-backed “No Blank Check” campaign that was accused of dirty politics, citizens approved the measure in 2011.
A similar situation might be brewing among wealthy oil and gas companies and their trade organizations, which are expected to fight the hit to their pocketbooks that would be delivered by a ban on hydraulic fracturing in Longmont. That measure, known as the “Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act” and listed as Question 300 on the Nov. 6 ballot, would ban fracking and related waste disposal within city limits.
According to records in the Longmont city clerk’s office, a committee called “Longmont Taxpayers for Common Sense” filed its registration form on Aug. 13, then submitted a new filing on Sept. 11, changing its name to “Main Street Longmont.”
According to Longmont City Clerk Valeria Skitt, the group had to change its name because the original moniker was already taken by an organization in Washington, D.C. That group asked the Longmont committee to change its title, but agreed to allow the committee to use the money it had already collected under that name, as long as it began fundraising under the new name, Skitt said.
She added that she will have no information about how the organization is funded until the first filing deadline for declaring financial contributions, which is Oct. 16. Subsequent financial forms are due Oct. 23, Oct. 31 and Dec. 6.
The registered agent for “Main Street Longmont” is listed as Richard Evans, who works for Reiter & Associates, a Denver political consulting firm headed by Rick Reiter, who has gained prominence by leading a host of well-financed campaigns for and against ballot initiatives statewide.
For example, according to records from the secretary of state’s office, Reiter’s firm raised $86,350 in 2006 for the Adams County Sales Tax Extension Campaign, $72,203 in 2006 to defeat the labor-backed Amendment 38, and $64,302 in 2010 to defeat Amendment 60, Amendment 61 and Proposition 101.
Reiter & Associates was also involved in Coloradans for a Stable Economy, which in 2008 helped defeat Amendment 58, a measure that would have increased severance taxes assessed to oil and gas companies, and would have directed most of that money to college scholarships.
An Oct. 31, 2008, article in the Rocky Mountain News reported that Reiter collected $800,000 in management fees that year.
When reached by phone, Evans declined to discuss who is involved in Main Street Longmont, or what entities were funding the effort.
“I’m actually just the person handling the campaign finance, is all,” he said. “I have to have someone else call you if you want a press story.”
Bill Ray, a communications consultant hired to serve as spokesperson for the campaign, also declined to discuss the financial backing of the campaign. When asked whether oil and gas interests would be bankrolling Main Street Longmont to protect their profits, Ray said, “Obviously, that industry has an interest in this issue in Longmont, as it is a national issue impacting the industry, but I think, come mid-October, when the financial reports happen, it will paint a picture of who the campaign has evolved into and the backers of the campaign.”
Ray said seven former Longmont mayors have signed on to support Main Street Longmont: Bryan Baum, Julia Pirnack, Bill Swenson, Bob Askey, Leona Stoecker, Roger Lange and Al Sweney. (See www.voteno300.com.)
When asked whether those mayors will actually be financing the initiative, Ray said, “We don’t share strategy. In a campaign, we have a campaign finance report due in mid-October, and that’s when that information will become public.” Ray also failed to point out that all seven of the former mayors are Republicans, a fact that might say more about “Main Street Longmont” and its pro-fracking position than anything else.
He declined to comment on whether this would be a repeat of the corporate telecommunications campaigns to defeat Longmont’s efforts to use its own fiber-optic network.
Ray, who worked for the Longmont Times-Call for many years, including as its editorial page editor, says he is no stranger to the community and has many friends in the city.
He also acknowledges working on “many, many, many campaigns” with Rick Reiter over the years. Ray confirmed that Reiter is “probably the top ballot and issue campaign consultant in the state of Colorado, absolutely.”
Reiter’s LinkedIn profile says he has compiled a 107-19 won-loss record on the state and local ballot issue campaigns he has run.
When asked why a request for comment from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the state’s primary association for that industry, was directed to him, Ray said, “COGA is not directly involved in the campaign, so when COGA gets a press call about the campaign, which they do quite often, they know to pass that along to me.”
In response to a question about what it might cost a group to hire Reiter and himself for a campaign, he declined to comment.
And when asked whether the Main Street Longmont campaign would be a true grassroots effort, Ray said, “I think the committee is going to be a combination of grassroots and seasoned campaign veterans who know how to effectively communicate on issues, so a little bit of everything. But there will be plenty of grassroots, and there will be plenty of other people working on the campaign to help communicate the message, whether that’s through grassroots work, if that’s through media, through mail pieces and the Internet, and all the other tools used in campaigns right now.”
In response to an inquiry about how big of a blow the passage of the ban would be to the industry, Ray said it’s not his role to discuss public policy.
“Right now, this issue is fueled by pure emotion,” he said. “There’s not a lot of science behind the arguments being made against fracking.”
Ray also said that his campaign “needs to get back to putting out some facts about oil and gas production, about fracking, about the health and safety concerns out there. … You have seven former mayors standing up for their city, standing up for the health and safety of their city, standing up for the economic environment of Longmont, and wanting to make sure the city charter is not filled with all kinds of special-interest initiatives.”
At least one Longmont City Council member, Bonnie Finley, has suggested that the city will be sued if the fracking ban passes. When asked whether the ban would withstand the scrutiny of the courts if approved, Ray said, “I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t practice law without a license.”
Question 300 proponent and Longmont-area native Sam Schabacker, Food & Water Watch’s mountain west director, says he expects oil and gas interests to spend more than $1 million to defeat the proposed fracking ban. He adds that the hiring of a heavy hitter like Reiter is a sign of how serious the industry is taking this threat.
“This guy is not small potatoes; he knows what he’s doing,” Schabacker said.