With a week until Election Day, the Colorado state Senate is looking like the Republican Party’s best chance to gain control of any part of Colorado government, as the Democratic Party is expected to retain the Governor’s office and keep its majority in the House of Representatives. Redistricting after the 2020 census benefitted Republicans in state Senate races, according to members of both parties.
According to data from Shale XP, an oil and gas data research tool, Colorado is the ninth-largest producer of oil and gas among U.S. states — behind Ohio and ahead of Oklahoma — based on data up to date as of August.
How is the industry exerting its influence on state legislative races that will likely determine if Democrats hold on to their trifecta control of Colorado state government?
To find out, the Colorado Times Recorder analyzed the Colorado campaign finance disclosure database to illuminate how much money oil and gas companies and lobbying groups are spending on the 2022 general election in Colorado — and which candidates they’re backing in some of the most important state legislative races.
Of Colorado’s top 15 oil and gas companies, as measured by how many wells they own and operate, six had recorded donations to candidates or political groups in Colorado in 2022. In total, these six companies made $522,900 in campaign contributions in 2022.
We also looked at several big names in Colorado’s oil and gas industry landscape. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association is the regulatory voice of the industry in the state. The American Petroleum Institute is a national trade association for the oil and gas industry. Xcel Energy is Colorado’s largest electric utility. Civitas Resources is an oil and gas company that has purchased some of Colorado’s largest drilling operations and is applying for more approved drilling leases in Aurora.
Occidental Petroleum is also an oil and gas company that had a development plan denied earlier this year by Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory agency because it included wells that were too close to residential homes and schools. And Liberty Oilfield is another oil and gas company.
We then wanted to look at some of the state’s most tightly contested Colorado Senate races. Specifically, we looked at the seven most competitive races according to independent polling data and by the amount of money donated to candidates.
This data is also from the state campaign finance disclosure database, but only includes direct donations from oil and gas companies or their employees to candidates. So, donations from oil and gas companies to political action committees (which then could have been donated to candidates through the PAC) were not included.
Thanks to dark money groups that can give unlimited funds and don’t have to disclose their donors, direct contributions to candidates are only a tiny fraction of the money spent on these elections.
For example, Weld County rancher Steve Wells, who made his fortune leasing his family’s land to Noble Energy (now Chevron) to drill some 900 wells on his property, has said he plans to spend as much as $11 million to “defeat Democrats that have destroyed our Colorado way of life.” Spending for each candidate in every one of these seven races will easily top $1 million, but the declared dollars can provide a window into companies’ political goals.
For example, groups affiliated with the Democratic Party have spent $1.6 million on the Senate District 20 race, while Republican groups have spent $1.9 million on the race. All of this data is up to date as of Oct. 26, which was the most recent filing deadline for state Senate candidates.
Above is a table that examines the amount of oil and gas donations in each race compared between each political party. See below for a breakdown of each race.
Senate District 3: Stephen Varela (R) vs. Nick Hinrichsen (D)
Stephen Varela, who’s running for a Pueblo-area seat, is an Army veteran facing incumbent state Sen. Nick Hinrichsen (D-Pueblo) who is also an Army veteran. For more of our coverage of this race, click here.
Senate District 8: Matt Solomon (R) vs. Dylan Roberts (D)
Former Eagle Town Councilmember and businessman Matt Solomon is taking on former state Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon) in this district which includes ski towns and the northwest corner of Colorado.
For more of our coverage on Solomon and this race, click here.
Senate District 11: Dennis Hisey (R) vs. Tony Exum (D)
Tony Exum is a former state Representative and firefighter from Colorado Springs who is facing state Sen. Dennis Hisey (R-Colorado Springs) who is also a former county commissioner for El Paso County. Senate District 11 includes Colorado Springs. For more coverage from the Colorado Times Recorder on this race, click here.
Senate District 15: Rob Woodward (R) vs. Janice Marchman (D)
State Sen. Rob Woodward (R-Loveland) (who also owns 28 Subway franchises in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska) is campaigning against Janice Marchman, a Loveland school teacher and school board member, in this Northern Colorado senate district.
Senate District 20: Tim Walsh (R) vs. Lisa Cutter (D)
Tim Walsh is a businessman from Evergreen and is facing former state Rep. Lisa Cutter (D-Littleton) in Colorado’s 20th Senate District. For more of our coverage on Walsh and this race, click here.
Senate District 24: Courtney Potter (R) vs. Kyle Mullica (D)
Courtney Potter, a school board member from Thornton, is facing trauma nurse and former state Rep. Kyle Mullica (D-Northglenn) who called Republican attempts to pass a full abortion ban during this year’s legislative session, “truly disgusting.”
Senate District 27: Tom Kim (R) vs. Tom Sullivan (D)
Former state Rep. Tom Sullivan (D-Centennial) and Centennial businessman Tom Kim are competing to represent a senate district in Arapahoe County.
For more of our coverage on this race, click here.
Overall, among these seven key state Senate races, 98% of individual donations from oil and gas companies went to candidates from the Republican party.
Production of oil and gas generates climate-warming greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals that are harmful to human health. Oil and gas production, processing, refineries, and petrochemical plants are also some of the largest sources of industrial greenhouse gases in the nation, behind only coal-fired power plants. These greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere causing global warming which — if global temperatures continue to warm — will cause extreme weather events, species extinction, and worsening health and poverty for millions of people worldwide.
In August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified the Denver metro area as a “severe” violator of federal ozone standards due to poor air quality in the area. Denver joined Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and New York City as “severe” violators.