We wrote last week about the unusual case of a signature gathering firm who proponents of Initiative 97, the controversial ballot initiative campaign to establish greater setbacks between oil and gas drilling and homes and schools throughout Colorado, alleged had absconded with thousands of petition signatures set to be turned in just a few days’ time. After a press conference blowing the whistle on that contractor’s behavior, those signatures were reportedly returned.
But as Westword’s Nora Alabi reported last night, the shenanigans against Initiative 97 didn’t stop there:
Just last week, the group publicly accused signature-gathering company Direct Action Partners of allegedly absconding with about 20,000 of its signatures, which were promptly returned after the incident made national headlines. Now Colorado Rising is struggling with another signature-gathering company on its campaign after an undisclosed pro-industry group allegedly paid one of the company’s subcontractors to immediately stop gathering signatures for the oil and gas setback petition known as Initiative 97. [Pols emphasis]
Colorado Rising disclosed a copy of a recording to Westword in which the group alleges that a “designated agent” for signature-gathering firm Petition Connection LLC admits to Colorado Rising representatives that a competitor paid him to stop working on Initiative 97. The agent couldn’t be reached for comment as of press time.
“Nobody threatened me,” the agent said on the recording. “You know what they’re doing. They’re going around and buying people.” [Pols emphasis]
When asked how much he was paid and if it was worth it, he admitted to Colorado Rising boardmember Lauren Petrie and the campaign’s volunteer community outreach director, Russell Mendell, that the payout “was enough” and that it “was worth it to me.” He said that since he didn’t have a contract with Colorado Rising — he was a subcontractor with Encore Political Services, which came in after Direct Action Partners abruptly left the campaign — that he felt more comfortable “washing his hands” of the campaign.
We’re not attorneys, but legalities of this situation are complex at first glance. In the slippery realm of shady petition gathering outfits and their many equally shady “subcontractors,” it’s entirely possible that a savvy operator could buy up capacity in order to cripple a petition effort without breaking any contractual obligation. Morally this is of course totally outrageous, but this is the oil and gas industry. At the end of the day, they’re not trying to win a popularity contest.
If this development shocks you in its audacity, that’s because it should. Unfortunately, the local political chattering class is heavily preoccupied with gamesmanship over statesmanship–especially where it concerns the all-powerful energy industry–and they’ll mostly admire this power play instead of criticize it. Initiative 97 is a sufficiently hot political potato with its potentially sweeping effects that even many Democrats critical of the industry will most likely be content to find another hill to die on.
Whatever becomes of Initiative 97, remember this happened. Because they’ll do it again.