Colorado Rural Electric Association spent electric cooperatives’ money supporting Republican politicians
By Joe Smyth | @joesmyth
The statewide association for electric cooperatives in Colorado describes its political spending as bipartisan and funded by voluntary donations, but a review of filings with the Colorado Secretary of State shows that it actually spent nearly a half million dollars last year in a failed effort to keep the Colorado state Senate in Republican hands. Some of that money came directly from electric cooperatives, not individual voluntary donations, which means the cooperatives’ customers funded a portion of the political spending.
The Colorado Rural Electric Association includes every electric cooperative in the state among its members, and it lobbies on state policy issues, as well as publishing a magazine that is distributed to co-op members and hosting events and trainings on energy issues, safety, and other topics.
But in recent years, the group has increased its spending on political campaigns, through its “Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification” political action committee and a new independent expenditure committee it created last year.
CREA describes its political spending as bipartisan and funded by “voluntary donations”
The Colorado Rural Electric Association (CREA) claims that its political spending is bipartisan, and funded by voluntary donations. For example, CREA describes its political action committee as a “bipartisan committee.” Similarly, the registration with the Colorado Secretary of State for the newer independent expenditure committee describes its purpose: “Promote the interests of cooperative electric associations by supporting or opposing candidates for state general assembly and statewide office, regardless of party affiliation, based on their policy positions on rural electricity.”
Moreover, Colorado Rural Electric Association executive director Kent Singer has described the funding for the group’s political spending as “voluntary,” and assured co-op members that “none of the dollars collected through your electric bills go to political candidates.”
In a 2016 column in the association’s magazine, Colorado Country Life, Singer wrote:
We also work with legislators from the time they are candidates, sometimes offering financial support to state legislative candidates through the co-ops’ political action committee, Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification. CARE, a bipartisan entity, operates independently from CREA with a separate governing board made up of electric co-op directors and employees elected from across the state. (Funding for CARE comes from voluntary donations.)
Singer was more explicit in a 2011 column in the same magazine: “CARE and ACRE are exclusively opt-in programs. Rest assured that none of the dollars collected through your electric bills go to political candidates.” That point was important enough for the magazine to repeat and highlight.
But a review of filings with the Colorado Secretary of State shows that while some of the funding for the co-op association’s political spending comes from voluntary donations by co-op directors and staff, hundreds of thousands of dollars have come from the co-ops themselves in recent years. Electric cooperatives don’t have shareholders, and nearly all of their revenue comes from electric bills paid by ratepayers.
The table below shows the contributions from electric cooperatives to the Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification political action committee and independent expenditure committee from 2015 through 2018.
During the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, 15 of the 22 electric cooperatives in Colorado gave money to the Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification political action committee and/or independent expenditure committee. Seven electric cooperatives did not contribute any money to those committees in recent years, according to filings with the Colorado Secretary of State. These figures only include money from the co-op itself, not voluntary contributions from individual co-op directors or staff.
According to the CREA website, “CREA actively promotes and solicits memberships” in Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification, whose “funds are maintained in the CREA office in Denver, Colorado.”
Kent Singer did not directly respond to a question about whether CREA had changed its policy in recent years to begin asking electric cooperatives to fund CARE, instead stating that “Members of CREA can choose to contribute to CARE or not, as they see fit.”
Here’s the full response from Singer:
Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification (CARE) is a nonpartisan political action committee that was formed to support candidates for the legislature who support electric co-op issues. Members of CARE elect an independent committee that oversees fundraising, endorses candidates, and authorizes expenditures. Members of CREA can choose to contribute to CARE or not, as they see fit. CARE reports contributions and expenditures to the Colorado Secretary of State in compliance with Colorado campaign finance laws. CARE supports CREA’s political advocacy efforts, one of the four key functions of the association (the others being safety/loss control; communications; and education).
Co-op political spending focused on keeping the state Senate in Republican hands
In keeping with its claims of bipartisanship, Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification endorsed both Republicans and Democrats, and its political action committee contributed token amounts to many candidates, usually $200. A website for the political action committee, careforcoops.me, appears to have been deleted earlier this year, but an archive of the website shows the list of candidates it endorsed.
But the association’s independent expenditure committee spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on just two close races that were considered pivotal to determining whether Republicans would maintain control of the state Senate last year.
The Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification Independent Expenditure Committee spent $467,546.67 during the 2018 election, according to the group’s finance history with the Colorado Secretary of State. A review of the group’s filings shows that nearly all of that, $444,327.96, went to political ads and other electioneering efforts supporting the Republican state Senate candidates running in District 20 and District 24, Christine Jensen and Beth Humenik.
The effort failed, and Democrats won a majority of the state Senate. Christine Jensen lost to Jessie Danielson, while Beth Humenik lost to Faith Winter, who is now Chair of the Energy and Transportation Committee.
Tri-State will replace coal plants with a gigawatt of new wind and solar
United Power and La Plata Electric ask Colorado Public Utilities Commission to determine Tri-State exit fee
Colorado Rural Electric Association spent electric cooperatives’ money supporting Republican politicians
Colorado Public Utilities Commissioner questions "whether or not Tri-State has been candid with us"
Rural America could power a renewable economy - but first we need to solve coal debt
Tri-State explores FERC rate regulation to limit state oversight
Poudre Valley Electric sets "80 by 2030" carbon free goal
Guzman Energy proposal would finance retirement of Tri-State coal plants, add 1.2 gigawatts of new wind and solar power
Colorado Public Utilities Commission will oversee Tri-State resource planning
Colorado communities and state Energy Office urge Public Utilities Commission oversight of Tri-State
Reports examine the impacts of Tri-State's high wholesale power costs
Tri-State executive involved with anti-Clean Air Act group since 2005
US Congressional Committee requests details of Tri-State funding to anti-Clean Air Act group
Renewable energy projects stalled in 2018 among Tri-State member co-ops
Second co-op asks Tri-State to pull “Better Together” ads
Tri-State won’t allow co-op members to attend annual meeting
Tri-State expects member co-ops to support bylaw changes at annual meeting
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union calls on Tri-State to adopt flexible contracts and more clean energy
Co-ops in Colorado push for change at Tri-State
Will Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska remain reliant on coal?
Tri-State ad campaign tells co-ops they’re “better together”
La Plata Electric concerned Tri-State debt will lead to higher rates
Colorado Public Utilities Commission asserts jurisdiction over Tri-State
More Colorado co-ops announce clean energy goals
Ski industry climate change efforts shift to electric utilities and their regulators
Public Utilities Commission rejects Tri-State motion to exclude Colorado Energy Office from exit charge case
Tri-State claims that co-ops "have intervened on Tri-State's behalf at the PUC” don’t add up
Colorado state legislators urge Public Utilities Commission to determine Tri-State exit charge
United Power says Tri-State policies are turning away large customers
Next PUC Commissioner John Gavan "consensus choice" of Governors Hickenlooper and Polis
Tri-State policy change discourages battery projects in rural Colorado and New Mexico
Colorado Public Utilities Commission orders Tri-State to "satisfy or answer" exit charge complaint from Delta Montrose Electric
United Power seeks solutions to "increasingly outmoded G&T business models"
Clean Energy Means Business Summit highlights renewable energy opportunities and challenges in rural Colorado
Governor-elect Jared Polis says moving Colorado toward more renewable energy will be a top priority
Electric cooperative officials discuss cheap renewable energy and an “eroding monopoly”
Delta Montrose Electric members vote for new financing options, supporting a potential buyout of Tri-State contract
Poudre Valley Electric requests Tri-State policy changes and fuel mix study
Holy Cross Energy plans to shift away from coal, aiming for 70% renewable energy
What do corporate renewable energy commitments mean for electric utilities?
Colorado Energy Plan approval will mean new renewable energy investments in rural Colorado
Report: Tri-State could save $600 million by shifting from coal to renewable energy
Delta Montrose Electric seeks new financing options to end contract with Tri-State
Wind energy jobs in rural Colorado attract bipartisan support
Colorado Energy Plan analysis shows switching from coal to renewable energy will boost jobs and local tax revenue
Poudre Valley Electric and Xcel Energy Colorado President win national awards from Smart Electric Power Alliance
Latest coal plant subsidy proposal could hit electricity bills in the West
Moody’s report: “High quality renewable resources” could help Tri-State and Basin Electric navigate rising carbon transition risks
Senator Heinrich highlights “frustrations in New Mexico” with Tri-State’s limits on local solar
Moody’s report shows Tri-State’s coal plants are more expensive than new renewable energy
Tri-State’s limits on local energy development are a growing problem for co-op members
Governor Hickenlooper discusses Tri-State at the Climate Leadership Conference
Bids for Xcel’s Colorado Energy Plan include a proposal for the world’s largest battery
New wind and solar power in Colorado is now cheaper than existing coal plants
Companies' 100% renewable energy goals are getting results in Colorado
What does cheap solar mean for electric cooperatives?
Colorado towns and cities are helping push utilities to embrace renewable energy
How are electric cooperatives navigating the transition from coal to cheap clean energy?
Blocked from building more solar projects, United Power shifts to community batteries
Economic reality sets in for Tri-State efforts to expand the Holcomb coal plant
Solar projects in the works in Grand and Jackson counties
Mountain Parks Electric grapples with solar