Colorado civil union supporters launch committee to unseat anti-gay lawmakers

Colorado leaders take a page from New York marriage equality playbook

A new organization working toward electing pro-civil union candidates, Fight Back Colorado, is a carbon copy of a political committee, Fight Back New York, founded in part by Colorado gay activist Tim Gill. The groups’ names, websites and talking points are mostly, if not all, identical. Fight Back New York was successful in voting out two lawmakers who opposed same-sex marriage and replaced them with pro-marriage equality candidates.

June 27, 2012 | 1:57 am
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 3:17 pm)

In an effort to elect a pro-equality legislature, supporters of the Colorado Civil Union Act have taken the first steps to replicate a successful strategy executed during the 2010 New York state Senate elections that paved the way to marriage equality legislation becoming law in the Empire State.

The committee, Fight Back Colorado, has taken the New York organization’s moniker, website and talking points.

And it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The single largest donor to Fight Back New York is Colorado activist and philanthropist Tim Gill.

According to the New York Times, Gill and his political team at Gill Action helped established the New York campaign. The group removed two state senators and replaced them with pro-marriage equality candidates.

In Colorado, the group must help Democrats retain control of the state Senate, 20-15, and give them back control of the House. Republicans enjoy a one seat advantage in that chamber, 33-32.

A review by of campaign finance reports by Out Front revealed Gill donated $122,000 of his own money to Fight Back New York. That’s 15 percent of the group’s total 2010 fundraising of $801,250.

Fight Back New York’s second largest donor also has ties to Colorado. Jon Stryker donated $83,000 to the New York group. Jon Stryker is brother of Pat Stryker, who along with Gill and two other wealthy Coloradans, helped flip the once tried and true Republican Centennial State to the Democratic column beginning with the 2004 election cycle.

And it’s more than likely Gill will donate to the committee, Fight Back Colorado’s treasure Roger Sherman said.

Gill Action Executive Director Kirk Fordham confirmed Gill would make a donation, but that amount has yet to be established.

“Our one and only mission is to unseat legislatures who killed the civil union bill,” Sherman said. “And I hope we’re out of business Nov. 7.”

Fight Back Colorado has not publicly announced which lawmakers they plan to attack.

“We’re not going to have the resources to unseat everyone,” Sherman said. “So we’re going to do our research. We’re going to do polling and identify the most vulnerable seats.”

Sherman said targets will be announced in the next few weeks.

Fight Back Colorado is an independent expenditure committee. Under Colorado law it can raise unlimited amounts of cash, however, the committee can neither donate to individual campaigns or coordinate with candidates.

The committee is the newest in a coalition of groups working to remove Speaker of the House Frank McNulty from power after the Colorado Civil Union Act was killed under his leadership three times in two years.

McNulty, during an interview with Out Front, said the bill will meet a similar fate in 2013 if he’s still in control. In that same interview, the speaker said he’d win every seat Gill targets.

Sponsored by gay Denver Democrats state Sen. Pat Steadman and state Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the Colorado Civil Union Act was first introduced in 2011. It cleared the Senate with bipartisan support but was killed on a party-line vote at a House Judiciary Committee.

The bill’s journey in 2012 was nothing short of a roller coaster.

First, the civil union bill started without a sponsor in the House. Supporters lobbied friendly Republicans to run the bill. When it was apparent no GOP House member would carry the bill and as time began to run out on the Colorado General Assembly, the Senate once again gave its blessing to relationship recognition to same-sex couples.

Ferrandino would carry the bill again.

Meanwhile, known only to a few key stakeholders, a Republican lawmaker on the House Judiciary Committee had switched her vote. Rep. B.J. Nikkel of Loveland voted with Democrats to propel the bill forward to two other committees where Republicans also voted for it.

Then the most shocking turn of events unfolded, not when House Republicans filibustered, but when McNulty and Ferrandino failed to reach a compromise on the House’s calendar. With only two days left in the regular session, Republicans put the House in recess of three hours — just enough time to kill the civil union bill and 30 other pieces of legislation.

Gov. John Hickenlooper then called for a special session of the legislature. But the bill died, again, on a party-line vote by the House State Affairs Committee.

Sherman declined to characterize the committee in terms of numbers of members or affiliation, but said the discussion to formally organize began following the special session.

“A lot of people have been involved,” he said.

That includes One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, which is also funded in part by Gill’s organizations. Leaders of the One Colorado, including Executive Director Brad Clark and board member Nita Henry, appear in a promotional video at Fight Back Colorado’s website.

One Colorado already has a political action and small donor committee. The group will encourage its base to donate to all three accounts, Clark said.

One Colorado’s committee have raised less than $10,000 collectively for the entire 2012 election cycle, according to campaign finance reports.

“Fight Back Colorado is one of many efforts to elect a pro-equality majority,” Clark said. “This is not just One Colorado, we’re part of this along with a lot of other folks who are very determined.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported Tim Gill would likely donate a large sum of money to Fight Back Colorado — an amount that would equal or surpass his donation to Fight Back New York. A spokesman for Gill told Out Front that no dollar figure has yet to be pledged.


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