Steyer-Backed Conservation Colorado Jumps Into Lachelt Recall Effort In La Plata County
California billionaire Tom Steyer has targeted state races in Colorado for the 2018 midterm, but some of the climate activist’s infrastructure has already been called upon to shore up the political fortunes of a local county commissioner.
Conservation Colorado, a state affiliate of the Steyer-funded League of Conservation Voters (LCV), has launched and paid for a campaign to retain embattled La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, a Western Wire investigation shows.
Steyer’s political action committee, NextGen Climate Action, gave $280,000 to Conservation Colorado directly in 2016. LCV added an additional $215,000 in the same cycle, Western Wire reported in 2017.
A review of campaign finance documents from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office and an examination of Conservation Colorado staff information demonstrate an intimate connection between the group and the effort to defeat an attempt to recall Lachelt.
Conservation Colorado’s “Take Action for Colorado” page includes a feature allowing users to “Pledge to support Gwen Lachelt,” paid for by “United Against the Recall.”
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Transparency in Contribution and Expenditure Reporting (TRACER) system shows United Against the Recall is an issue committee “opposing the recall of Gwen Lachelt” and was registered February 6, 2018. The committee shares the same office address and phone number as the Durango field office for Conservation Colorado—1309 East 3rd Avenue #110.
The building also houses the office of Western Leaders Network, a group founded in 2017 by Lachelt and registered under her name, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s database records.
United’s registered agent, Nikki Riedt, is the operations and finance director for Conservation Colorado, and has used her employer’s office phone number as part of her contact information.
Riedt is also listed as the registered agent for Colorado Conservation Voters Action Fund, a political committee, and Colorado Conservation Action Fund, a small donor committee. Riedt formerly served as the registered agent for Conservation Colorado Victory Fund, an independent expenditure committee
The committee’s first report of contributions and expenditures through February 16 is due on February 21, according to TRACER.
Conservation Colorado did not respond to a Western Wire email or call for comment.
Questions about Lachelt’s work as La Plata County Commissioner and as the Executive Director of Western Leaders Network, an advocacy organization that lobbied against any change to the Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule in 2017, led to an ethics complaint and allegations of a conflict of interest by local residents.
Recall supporters have pointed to Lachelt’s previous environmental advocacy and attendance record at county meetings as part of their efforts to oust the commissioner. Lachelt is a former Earthworks employee and founder of the group’s Oil and Gas Accountability Project, and a former board member of San Juan Citizens Alliance, which shares the same street address as Conservation Colorado and United Against the Recall.
“Gwen Lachelt has been a champion for our communities since she was first elected as a La Plata County Commissioner in 2012. Now, proponents of the oil and gas industry and its allies are trying to remove her from office. Add your name today and pledge to support Gwen Lachelt!” United Against the Recall’s page on Conservation Colorado reads.
The text of the petition calls Lachelt a “champion for La Plata County and our environment.” According to the site, there were 244 supporters pledged as of Feb. 19.
The group’s Facebook page offers what her supporters call a “simple” reason for the recall, pointing to “oil and gas proponents who are frustrated by her standing up for our health and environment.”
For her part, Lachelt has called for advocates to “decline to sign” and blasted outside groups like the “big oil and gas lobby” and Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by the Koch brothers.
On her own website Lachelt claimed her recall was part of a national effort.
“We know they are grasping at straws, but this well-funded and well-orchestrated effort to unseat me is part a national strategy to oust progressive, local elected officials from office,” Lachelt wrote.
Lachelt has also alleged that Western Wire, a project of Western Energy Alliance, used open records from outside sources for its stories on Lachelt’s dual role as activist and elected official. Western Wire filed its own Colorado Open Records Act request on July 31, 2017, and documents related to that request can be found in our subsequent August 10 report on Lachelt’s travel, calendar, and reimbursements.
Lachelt has used the opportunity for fundraising on accusations that deep-pocketed “outside interests” have targeted her positions on oil and gas regulations.
“Let’s fight this together! I’m not willing to let outside interests and outside money take over our county,” Lachelt wrote.
In 2017 municipal elections, Conservation Colorado turned to candidates for city council in Aurora. Last fall, Conservation Colorado’s then-Executive Director, Pete Maysmith, moved to LCV as Senior Vice President for Campaigns.
Steyer is a major funder of LCV, which announced a record $20 million effort for 2018 focused on Western states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. After spending more than $163 million over the past two cycles, Steyer may be recognizing the “value of going small,” according to the Washington Free Beacon.
“There’s not a day that goes by that someone on our team doesn’t talk to someone on the Steyer team,” LCV President Gene Karpinski told the Washington Post in 2014.
Steyer’s local efforts in other states have paid electoral dividends.
Nevada campaign finance records for 2016 show Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, giving $70,000 to help flip the state’s legislature to Democratic control. A similar $65,000 effort in New Mexico that same year had the same effect, helping Democrats win control by targeting a handful of state contests. LCV added an additional $185,000 in New Mexico in 2016.
Steyer has also donated directly to five state candidates in Colorado ahead of the 2018 midterm election, Western Wire has reported.
Steyer has already pledged $20 million to impeach President Donald Trump, and another $30 million on House races in 2018.