Muni backers closing election spending gap
The two main issue committees in support of the city of Boulder creating a municipal electric utility – Empower Our Future and Voters Against Xcel Buying Elections – have raised $298,696 to oppose Issue 310, which would require voter approval for any debt issued by the city in relation to a municipal utility.
That’s compared to the $300,000 lump sum Xcel donated last month to Voter Approval of Debt Limits, the committee responsible for gathering enough voter signatures to land Issue 310 on the ballot. In all, Voter Approval of Debt Limits has spent $344,744 but has raised only $322,100 so far.
“It’s still a fraction of what is probably going to be spent on the other side between now and election day,” said Steve Fenberg, executive director of New Era Colorado, which created Voters Against Xcel Buying Elections. “I expect (Xcel) to spend much more.”
The numbers are from the most recent filings made with the city, which are due each Tuesday leading up to the election. Empower Our Future’s totals include its Oct. 22 filing, while Voters Against Xcel Buying Elections’ latest report hadn’t been posted on the city website by press time on Oct. 22. Voter Approval of Debt Limits’ numbers reflect its Oct. 22 report, according to the group’s spokeswoman Katy Atkinson.
Xcel spent nearly $1 million in 2011 to fight two ballot measures that voters narrowly approved, granting city leaders the right to pursue creating a municipal utility. Municipalization supporters spent a little more than $100,000 in that campaign.
In addition to the $300,000 donation to Voter Approval of Debt Limits this year, Xcel has spent $29,106 on wages for employees and lawyers working on the campaign as of its Oct. 15 filing. Xcel regional vice president Jerome Davis said recently that it’s unclear whether Xcel might weigh in with further campaign contributions.
“As we get further into the campaign, if we feel there’s a need for further education on the issue, we certainly might support that,” Davis said.
Atkinson said she was unsure whether more money was coming the group’s way from Xcel. Issue committees’ final finance filing deadline before the election is Oct. 31. A final report is due 30 days after the election.
Voters began receiving ballots in the mail about three weeks ahead of the election.
“What we’re up to is very much the basics, getting our message out there via television and direct mail, primarily,” Atkinson said of the campaign’s stretch run. “We’re identifying our voters and getting into voter turnout mode.”
New Era’s Oct. 15 issue committee filing showed it had raised $205,657.47, although a $25,000 donation from the Sierra Club was mistakenly left off the report. So its actual total, Fenberg said, is $230,657.47. New Era raised nearly $181,000 through an online crowdfunding campaign that drew money from all over the nation.
Fenberg said the organization has spent about $140,000, including staff wages, as of Oct. 22. He said the plan is to continue to talk to voters in person and run print and television ads.
Empower Our Future, another issue committee fighting 310, has raised $65,039, although $8,715 of that recently came from New Era’s issue committee. Empower Our Future committee chairman Ken Regelson said all of his organization’s money either has been spent or budgeted for television ads, print ads, direct mailings and other campaign literature.
Outside of individual contributions, Regelson said, his group doesn’t expect any more major contributions.
The municipalization debate has been polarizing, to say the least. The city has placed measure 2E on the ballot to compete with 310. The city-initiated measure would limit – to $214 million – only the amount Boulder could pay in the acquisition of Xcel assets and stranded costs owed to the company, but not for other startup or future costs associated with the municipal utility.
In addition to requiring voter approval for any debt issued by a municipal utility, 310 would limit such elections to odd-numbered years and require that customers of the utility who live outside city boundaries be allowed to vote on those matters. Those requirements, municipalization proponents have said, would essentially kill municipalization and any bargaining power the city might have in pushing Xcel to more rapidly to shift its energy mix to renewable sources if the city were to keep Xcel as its service provider.
Hundreds of individuals have donated to the two pro-muni committees. While the amounts have been relatively small, five city council members, including Mayor Matt Appelbaum, Macon Cowles, KC Becker, Lisa Morzel and Suzanne Jones, have donated to those causes. Namaste Solar, meanwhile, has been in the pro-muni corner from a business standpoint.
Outside of Xcel, Voter Approval of Debt Limits financial supporters have been few in number, although not necessarily in stature. Boulder venture capital firm Foundry Group donated $5,000 to VADL over the summer as it worked to gather enough signatures to place 310 on the ballot, while a prominent real estate development company, Tebo Development Co., gave $1,500 during the same time frame.
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