Oil and gas industry group linked to Initiative 97 harassment

Initiative 97 signature gatherer Kimmy Fry approaches a citizen in Civic Center Park as protesters lurk behind her holding signs. [Sam Brasch/CPR News]

At a press conference today at the State Capitol supporters of Initiative 97, which favors 2500-foot setbacks for new oil & gas facilities, vowed to fight on as they contend with their own setbacks.

Colorado Rising organizers called the presser to unpack the breaking news that Direct Action Partners, one of the six companies hired to gather over 98,000 signatures by August 6, had abruptly quit and left the state taking seven boxes of petitions (up to 20,000 signatures) with them. Former Democratic candidate for State Attorney General and attorney for Colorado Rising Joe Salazar announced that the group has filed a lawsuit in Denver County Court to force Denver Action Partners to return the missing petitions.

*Update 5:56 pm: Colorado Rising reports they got the missing petitions back.

Colorado Rising Suing Direct Action Partners Over Missing Petitions

… “We believe we’re still on track to make it even if we don’t get these signatures back,” says Russell Mendell, an organizer for Frack Free Colorado and one of the initiative’s sponsors. Still, Mendell says, Colorado Rising will need to raise more money to pay for more signature-gatherers if it wants to ensure that the initiative makes the November ballot …

… Representative Joe Salazar, who came out strongly against fracking as a Democratic candidate for attorney general (he lost the primary to Phil Weiser), is representing Colorado Rising in the civil lawsuit. Salazar has already filed a Replevin case in Denver County Court to force Denver Action Partners to return the petitions. There’s a major hurdle, though: finding the owners of Direct Action Partners in order to serve them with the lawsuit in person. The clock is ticking toward that August 6 petition deadline, and finding out-of-state defendants could take time that the campaign just doesn’t have.

“We don’t know exactly where [Selvaggio] is, so we’d have to find him,” Mendell says. “We have some leads. We’re going to do whatever we can.”

Direct Action Partners faces other problems. Former Colorado employees of the firm are preparing to sue the company over alleged wage theft. Brian Loma, a former Denver field operations director for Direct Action Partners, says that everyone was abruptly let go by Selvaggio last week; workers were locked out of the Colorado Springs office without notice on Friday, July 20.

Colorado Rising says it paid Direct Action Partners in full and on time, but is now trying to work through payroll issues left by Direct Action Partners’ departure. The campaign estimates that about 100 Colorado employees, or about one-fourth of those employed in the state by Direct Action Partners, have either not been paid or were incorrectly paid.

“Yes, in our office and throughout the [Direct Action Partners signature-gathering areas]…the employees are standing in solidarity with Colorado Rising. We are still out getting the signatures to get safety setbacks on the ballot. We are, in solidarity, filing labor documents with the State of Colorado” for wage theft, Loma says, then adds, “Democracy doesn’t stop because a business decides not to pay its people” …

Video of the press conference is posted below.

In the meantime volunteers with Colorado Rising have been doggedly harassed by protestors while out on signature gathering missions during the past couple months. Volunteers in Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins, and Greeley have reported that protestors show up with signs and shout slogans at potential petition signers. They follow volunteers from one location to another and in some cases to their homes to record where they live.

According to Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado, there have been more than 100 incidents of people being harassed and intimidated while gathering signatures. “We’ve had young women frightened and crying after being followed by these men for hours and all the way back to the office.”

Protests To Slow Signature Efforts: Another Front In Colorado’s Oil And Gas Ballot Battle

Here’s how heated the battle over oil and gas development has become in Colorado: Protesters follow people collecting signatures for a potential ballot measure to limit drilling. They carry banners with counter-messages and urge people not to sign petitions …

… Colorado Rising volunteer Anne Lee Foster said an anonymous employee at Anadarko Petroleum shared an internal document. It appears to ask employees to report when they see Initiative 97 canvassers. The letter includes an email address and a text message hotline.

Brian Loma, who helps run the signature campaign for Colorado Rising, showed CPR News what can happen when someone — in this case him — reports the location of a signature gatherer. As he stood nearby Denver’s Civic Center Park, he gave away the gatherer’s location.

“So, now we are going to say ‘food trucks by the Capitol,’” he said as he punched away at a text on his phone.

Kimmy Fry, a petite 19-year-old with pixie haircut and a fanny pack with a built-in speaker system, was one of the paid signature gatherers working that day. She said the chosen location was good territory. It had no shortage of people she could approach as they got lunch from food trucks during the annual Civic Center Eats showcase.

With a goal of 10 signatures in a half hour, Fry was soon approached by a group of young men. They opened their bags and pulled out signs.

“This Petitioner Wants To Ban Fracking In Colorado. So does Vladimir Putin,” read one. Another sign proclaimed “Save CO Jobs.” The four protesters surrounded Fry on all sides. Two others eventually arrived before splitting off to follow other petitioners …

While Colorado Rising organizers are certain that the industry is tracking the activities of the volunteer signature gatherers, they have been unable to prove it until today. Boulder Weekly published the results of their investigation into the internal documents of Protect Colorado, an industry-funded political action group, that show without a doubt the group is orchestrating the effort to track Initiative 97 volunteers.

The intimidation of democracy

… According to internal documents reviewed by Boulder Weekly, the political committee Protect Colorado appears to have requested that individuals, known as “ambassadors,” report the specific location of individuals gathering signatures for Ballot Initiatives 94 (concerning a severance tax increase) and 97, as recently as June 20. There could be as many as 1,800 ambassadors, according to a 2015 presentation given by former Anadarko lobbyist Chris Castilian.

Protect Colorado was co-created by Anadarko and Noble Energy to defeat oil and gas ballot measures in Colorado. Protect Colorado has received nearly $11 million in contributions since the beginning of 2018, with the majority coming from Anadarko, Extraction Oil and Gas, Noble Energy and PDC Energy.

The internal documents reviewed by BW, which are in the form of e-mails, request that ambassadors report signature-gathering activity to Protect Colorado by directing people to send information to an e-mail address or via a text line, using the code word “CANVASS.” (We tested the text line, and got an immediate response: “Where did you see a canvasser in your area?”)

In response to our request to confirm the documents and answer what Protect Colorado does with locations of signature gathering, the group offered this statement via Karen Crummy:

“We are exercising our First Amendment rights, which includes asking people to think about and read what they are signing. We have also asked the public and oil and gas employees to let us know when they see individuals gathering signatures on the 2,500-foot setback measure. This is standard practice in modern campaigns. We get asked about the activities in the field and want to understand what is going on. Monitoring opposition is important. The proponents of these bad measures monitor us as well” …

While hard evidence has not yet been uncovered that the “ambassadors” are being paid directly by Protect Colorado, there’s no other explanation as to why these individuals would be following orders other than they are on the payroll of the group broadcasting those orders.

So let’s review. Squads of protestors dispatched by Protect Colorado to locations where volunteer are gathering signatures. And suddenly one of the companies paid by Colorado Rising to collect signatures disappears with seven boxes of signed petitions.

Did Protect Colorado pay off Direct Action Partners to throw the campaign?

This article just published in The New York Times reports that according to Colorado Rising members an industry-funded group had approached Direct Action Partners to throw the campaign.

Colorado Group Says Thousands of Signatures for Anti-Fracking Measure Are Missing

… But in at least one conversation with Colorado Rising, according to members of the group, Mr. Selvaggio [Michael Selvaggio, president Direct Action Partners] said that he had been approached by the industry-funded group aimed at killing the initiative.

Pac/West, a communications company organizing the fight against the measure, had come to him and asked him to throw the campaign, he told Ms. Spiegel and at least one other organizer, Lauren Petrie.

Ms. Crummy [Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for Protect Colorado] acknowledged that the president of Pac/West, Paul Phillips, had known Mr. Selvaggio for years, because both of their companies are based in Oregon. But, she said, “there has been no conversation” about paying Mr. Selvaggio to toss signatures or otherwise compromise the campaign …

How would Crummy know whether or not Phillips and Selvaggio talked about throwing the campaign? Except for the fact they all seem to know each other quite well.

So there’s Michael Selvaggio of Direct Action Partners who’s a friend of Paul Phillips of Pac/West, the company that works for Protect Colorado which gives orders to a squad of “ambassadors” to harass Initiative 97 volunteers. Protect Colorado is funded by Anadarko, Extraction Oil and Gas, Noble Energy and PDC Energy.

We need a flowchart.

This is starting to look a lot like the Russians in the 2016 election.

Colorado Rising Press Conference — July 26, 2018


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