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Coverage of energy that moves beyond polarized arguments and emotional debate to explore the points of tension, the tradeoffs and opportunities, and the very human consequences of energy policy, production, use and innovation.Inside Energy is a collaboration of seven public media outlets in the nation's energy epicenter: Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota.

In Colorado's Close Senate Race, Ad Funders Pay To Win, Not Push Policy

Udall - U.S. Senate | Gardner - U.S. House

Energy is a key political issue in the state of Colorado, although the campaign ads overwhelming the airwaves right now often gloss over the topic – even if energy interests are behind the ads.

The U.S. Senate majority is up for grabs, and Colorado’s race between incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner is one of the country’s most competitive.

According to Politico, NextGen Climate Action Committee, founded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, told the Federal Election Commission it has spent nearly $3.3 million on ads against Rep. Gardner.

While the ads often mention Gardner’s skepticism of climate change, they spend more time talking about a more hot-button issue, reproductive rights.


“We are seeing a just a tremendous amount of advertising just around one topic – reproductive rights,” said Denver political analyst Floyd Cirulli, “because of their belief, the campaigns’ belief that it is persuasive.”

Hot-button issues bring people to the polls. These topics get undecided voters fired-up in a way that energy issues don’t, according to Cirulli’s research.

While liberal ads are focusing on reproductive rights this campaign season, for conservatives, it’s Obamacare.


The above ad comes from Americans for Prosperity, one of the country’s most famous political action committees. The group has already spent more than $600,000 on ads so far in the Denver Metro area in advance of November.

Americans for Prosperity was founded with the support of conservative oil and gas billionaires, the Koch brothers. But it’s hard to pin the group's funding, however, because as a nonprofit, Americans for Prosperity does not have to disclose its donors.

Whatever the ads say, the Koch brothers made their fortunes in natural gas, coal, oil and are spending millions lobbying Congress on energy issues.

Political ad spending continues to soar throughout the United States, but especially in states like Colorado, where the race is a dead heat.

“The money would turn off here in a minute if it looked like either the Democrats or Republicans were consistently ahead, you would see the money disappear,” Cirulli said.

Right now the only goal for campaign donors is to win, and they’ll use any tool at their disposal, even if the tactics may not align with their true policy interests.

Inside Energy is a public media collaboration, based in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota, focusing on the energy industry and its impacts.

Dan Boyce moved to the Inside Energy team at Rocky Mountain PBS in 2014, after five years of television and radio reporting in his home state of Montana. In his most recent role as Montana Public Radio’s Capitol Bureau Chief, Dan produced daily stories on state politics and government.
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