Oil and gas drilling PAC drops $100K in Aurora council races at the last minute


AURORA | The same oil and gas industry political action committee that dropped $100,000 in the Broomfield fracking ballot question has poured that amount into Aurora City Council races at the last minute, backing two incumbents, a former state lawmaker, a local chamber of commerce favorite and a former Aurora cop.

Campaign financial disclosure records filed Nov. 1 with the Aurora City Clerk office show that Vital for Colorado donated $100,000 to a PAC called Aurora for a Stronger Economy in five $20,000 payments all dated Oct. 20, 2017. Ballots for the Aurora municipal race were mailed out earlier in October. Returns have been slow.

Aurora Sentinel 2017 Voter Guide

The cash was used to primarily buy TV campaign commercials, robocalls and live calls to potential voters for at-large council candidates Tim Huffman and David Gruber, Ward II candidate Bob Hagedorn, Ward III candidate Marsha Berzins and Ward I candidate Sally Mounier.

Gas and oil drilling in Aurora has been limited, especially since the decline in oil prices during the past few years. The issue has been raised in city council candidate forums, but it’s garnered relatively little public attention. Vital for Colorado’s website claims that an oil boom similar to those of North Dakota and Pennsylvania could create economic opportunity in Colorado.

Ward II candidate Nicole Johnston has pinned her interest in Aurora government on how little public input there was in drilling and fracking operations in the city.

She said the last-minute boost from Vital for Colorado wasn’t surprising, “I think it shows the oil and gas industry is concerned that people who represent the community have an opportunity to get elected.”

“I really hope for our community’s sake we get somebody who represents the community over special interests,” Johnston added.

Most candidates have focused their campaigns on transportation, immigration, public safety and affordable housing.

Huffman is a former Aurora police officer. Gruber is a retired Air Force colonel and former Aurora chamber board president. Hagedorn is a former state lawmaker. Berzins and Mounier are incumbents.

Hagedorn said his votes cannot be bought.

“In 16 years in the legislature I received a lot of special interest contributions,” he said. “I can honestly say that I have never been influenced in the past by people who have donated to my campaigns. I can think of two examples: trial lawyers and pharmaceutical companies. And I ended up being one of their worst nightmares.”

Additionally, Hagedorn said there is a lot that has to be done at the state level regarding oil and gas regulations.

“Regarding oil and gas, I have an understanding of the state constitution and the rules the adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. The state Supreme Court has upheld a number of decisions of theirs,” he said. “I’m not going to drag the city into litigation in something we can’t win. I have my priorities regarding oil and gas. I don’t the want the air polluted or the water polluted or the ground polluted, and those are things we do have a say in.”

Aurora Chamber of Commerce CEO Kevin Hougen is listed as a board member of Vital for Colorado, according to the organization’s website. The group’s funding details were not available at press time.

Vital for Colorado Action Committee did not return calls.

The PAC payments are a last-minute push, and the donations and services provided are separate from the campaigns of the council candidates, who filed last week. None of the candidates received any direct contributions from Vital for Colorado or the PAC in that last filing.

The group dropped $100,000 into a campaign fighting a Broomfield ballot question that seeks to force future city councils to weigh public safety when considering approval of industrial projects, especially oil and gas drilling.