Knopf: Beware of big money (column)
September 4, 2018
It's starting again. The battle of the mind. And they want yours.
We all like to turn on the television and be mindless. That's what they're hoping for. They hope you aren't paying close attention. They hope you don't notice how they pull at your emotions and convince you to make an important decision, fast and with little data, influenced only by a fearful fleeting feeling. The frequency of their ads beat you down. They know if you hear something often enough you'll believe it's true.
Who are "THEY?" People who have a real vested interest in your vote. The oil industry is one. "Protect Colorado" has a patriotic homey feel to it, doesn't it? The site clearly states its purpose is to "support state and local ballot initiatives promoting responsible oil and natural gas development, and oppose state and local ballot initiatives attempting to limit or ban oil and natural gas development, including any ban or restriction on hydraulic fracturing."
They recruited a former Colorado attorney general to give their latest message gravitas.
In a column published in this paper on Jan. 15, 2017, Jonathan Knopf and I detailed for you just how big money persuaded Coloradans to vote against their own best interests. Big money would like you to think your jobs were on the line. They weren't. In 2016, according to records of Campaign Finance Division of the Colorado Secretary of State, big oil spent $24 million to sway the voters and they succeeded.
We can live with big oil, work in good jobs, and still have safety setbacks so our houses don't spontaneously blow up from gas leaks, and we don't suffer from devastating earthquakes like those in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Ohio. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, those earthquakes were caused by waste water disposal. The USGS on its website states a hydraulic fracturing site typically consumes "1.5 million gallons to about 16 million gallons of water." That water often contains benzene and other nasty chemicals. We can't find out exactly which chemicals because formulas are "proprietary."
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In 2015, the EPA published a report stating drinking water has been, and can be, contaminated by fracking fluid chemicals. According to a pro-oil website, OilPrice.com, "about 20 percent to 40 percent of the fluid flows back to the surface and is disposed by any one of a number of options. The four most common disposal options are: recycling for additional fracking, treatment and discharge to surface waters, underground injection, and storage in open air pits." Boy, I'd like to know more about that!
I'm not anti-oil. I drive a car. I use natural gas to heat my home. I'd just like Protect Colorado, to live up to its name and actually protect Colorado. If it's a responsible industry, doing a responsible disposal job, there should be no problem disclosing chemicals so we can test water and check for possible contamination. There should be no problem with safety setbacks, or staying out of communities where the oil industry is unwelcome. The problem is "Protect Colorado" should really be called "Protect Big Oil Profits." At the least they could call their campaign something like "The Association of Oil Industry Lobbyists."
They aren't the only ones trying to influence your vote on election day. The "Congressional Leadership Fund," sounds non-partisan and patriotic. It's not. The "Congressional Leadership Fund is a super PAC (political action committee) exclusively dedicated to protecting and strengthening the Republican Majority in the House of Representatives." That's right off their website. Currently they are busy smearing Jason Crow, the Democratic candidate running for Congressional District 6.
Their ad accuses Crow of failing to do his job protecting veterans. Let's be clear, Crow is a Bronze Star-decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan served in the Army's 82 Airborne and the 75th Ranger Regiment and voluntarily co-chaired the Colorado Board of Veteran's Affairs without pay. He did his job at a law firm and volunteered to support veterans.
So far, the Congressional Leadership Fund" has spent more than $780,000 campaigning against Jason Crow. Interestingly, when the Denver Post talked about the big money flooding into this race, they left out the Congressional Leadership Fund. Instead the article mentioned three progressive groups that supported Crow to the tune of about $40K.
How is this different than the old days, when the source of the money was obvious? Instead of "Congressional Leadership Fund," the organization would be called the "Republican Congressional Campaign Fund." And your brain automatically knew you were hearing a partisan ad. Thanks to Citizens United they can spend millions to influence you.
Citizens United is a 2010 Supreme Court decision that held corporations are the same as people and can spend limitless cash to influence American elections. I find it interesting the only groups trying to defeat Citizen's United are progressives. According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, almost $1.4 billion in OUTSIDE money was spent in the 2016 election. Compare that to $57.3 million spent in 2006.
Right now the conservatives are outspending progressives. In the 2016 CD 6 race, 40 percent more money came Mike Coffman's way. According the OpenSecrets.org that's pretty close to the national average; 44 percent more money is funneled from outside groups to conservative candidates.
Bottom line, don't let big money ads beat you down.
Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident. She has won awards from the AP and United Press International for her news reporting.