The push is on for supporters of an initiative to put a measure on the state’s November ballot that would prohibit the location of oil and gas wells within 2,500 feet of an occupied building to get the signatures they need by Monday’s deadline.
Colorado Rising, the Boulder-based advocacy group pushing Initiative 97, claims it has been targeted by an orchestrated campaign to send people out to sites where they are collecting signatures, in order to harass them and discourage them from signing.
“What the harassers would do is they would get in between the signature gatherers and the signer, and they would start yelling and trying to intimidate the people, to scare the signers away — yelling things like, ‘You don’t know who these people are, or who are you giving your information to,” said Colorado Rising volunteer Holly Wheeler of Boulder. “They were, like, a foot away from people in their face, and yelling.
Colorado Rising volunteer Sandy Castillo(right) gets a petition signature from Carol Scowcroft, of Boulder, on Wednesday at the Farmers Market in Boulder. The petition Castillo is circulating seeks to get Initiative 97, which would require 2,500-foot setbacks from occupied buildings for any oil and gas extraction sites, on the November ballot. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)
Similar accounts were offered by Colorado Rising coordinator Suzanne Spiegel, who said the harassers’ tactics included unfurling opposition banners at the spot where signatures are being gathered.
Opponents have gone further, she said.
“We have had harassers follow them home. One of the volunteers, a grandmother, was really disturbed. She called the cops several times. It is not unusual. We’ve had them make fun of people personally, and intimidating them.”
Spiegel referenced a young woman who, after being followed and harassed by a man, came back to the office in tears.
“It takes a lot to get someone to go back out, after an experience like that.”
A spokeswoman for the Boulder County District Attorney’s office said an affidavit concerning allegations of harassment is currently under review for possible charges, and that additionally, two summons for such activity have been issued by the Boulder Police Department. One such incident, according to Colorado Rising, occurred at the Boulder Library on July 23.
Colorado Rising has obtained a copy of a letter sent to attendees of a “special edition political mash up” held by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation on June 4, which encouraged recipients to “report signature gathering activity,” and offered instructions on how to do so by both email and text.
That letter — which does not state what will be done with the information — originated from Kelsey Olson, senior governmental relations representative for Anadarko.
Olson, when contacted on Wednesday, referred a reporter to John Christiansen, vice president of corporate communications for Anadarko. A message left for Christiansen soon triggered a reply from Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, the political arm of Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, which received initial funding from Anadarko and Noble Energy.
“We are exercising our First Amendment rights, which includes asking people to think about and read what they are signing,” Crummy said Wednesday by email.
“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 activities in the field and want to understand what the proponents are saying and whether it’s accurate. Monitoring the opposition is important. The proponents of these bad measures monitor us as well.”
This is hardly the first problem that has plagued the group as it works toward its goal of collecting the 98,492 certified signatures needed by Monday’s deadline to put the question on ballots this fall.
Previously, it was embroiled in a dispute with Direct Action Partners Inc., which suddenly shuttered its Colorado offices and took seven boxes containing 15,000 to 20,000 collected signatures to its Portland, Ore., headquarters, claiming that it was owed money — an assertion Colorado Rising disputed.
Direct Action Partners returned the seven boxes of signatures Thursday after Colorado Rising filed a complaint in Denver District Court.
Also on Wednesday, Colorado Rising alleged in a news release that it had obtained an audio recording that it said purports to show a professional signature collector admitting that the contractor for whom he was working, on behalf of Colorado Rising, had been bought out by a contractor opposing Initiative 97.
According to Colorado Rising’s release, that collector “says he was asked to give all of the petitions that his team had collected to the party responsible for providing the buyout, instead of releasing the signatures to Colorado Rising,” but that he refused to do so.
“When pressed about who was involved in making the request (the signature collector) did not refute that it was Protect Colorado,” the release stated.
“There have been so many allegations and misrepresentations by Colorado Rising it’s difficult to take them seriously,” Crummy said, on behalf of Protect Colorado. Asked directly if Protect Colorado had a role in that signature collector being paid to go away, she said, “No. We have no idea what they are talking about.”
The signature collector who Colorado Rising claims to have caught on tape with those admissions did not respond to the Camera’s request for comment, nor did the contractor by whom he was directly employed, or the contractor that allegedly bought him out.
‘A lot bigger than Boulder’
Despite all the conflict around Initiative 97 boosters’ ballot bid, Wheeler was back out collecting signatures at Boulder’s Farmer’s Market on Wednesday night.
“We’re so close,” Wheeler said. “I know that this last push is going to be the insurance that we need, so that we can know that this ballot initiative is going to make it onto the ballot.”
She said signature gatherers are still being sought to contribute to the effort, and can enlist by going to the Colorado Rising office at 1325 Broadway in Boulder between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., or its locations in Fort Collins and Denver.
Spiegel said while Boulder support is important to 97’s chances, what is happening locally is just a snapshot of a much larger campaign.
“It’s a lot bigger than Boulder,” Spiegel said. “We’re all over the state. We have 550 volunteers all over the state. Boulder is just a part. It’s an important part, but it’s just a part.”