Frack Free Colorado (FFC), an anti-fracking group that helped organize a handful of ballot initiatives targeting hydraulic fracturing in Colorado this cycle has scrubbed its website of references to at least one major national organization despite protestations that its efforts relied on underfunded, grassroots campaigns.
FFC’s references to Water Defense, an organization co-founded by Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo and based in Brooklyn, New York, have been deleted since the November 5, 2013 election. A September 16 cache of the site lists Water Defense as the first activist group among the list of FFC “Members,” as does a recent Google cache from November 11. However, the current site does not.
FFC spokesman and statewide director, Russell Mendell, was quoted in a Bloomberg article dated November 1, declaring that local efforts in support of the fracking bans were “100-percent-volunteer done” and refuted claims of unreported contributions to Colorado activists by national groups.
In a statement posted to the group’s main page following the election (and also since removed), Mendell celebrated the “strong grassroots movement to protect our communities,” while pushing back against charges that “outside groups were pushing some sort of nefarious agenda.”
Both Mendell and FFC press secretary Ana Tinsley, however, have previously worked for Water Defense—and appear to have worked on efforts at FFC at the same time. A July 21, 2013 cache of Water Defense’s contact page lists Tinsly’s email and Manhattan area code phone number (as does a screencap made on November 9). But just one month earlier, on June 19, Tinsly is listed as a press contact for Frack Free Colorado on a Facebook post, using the same Manhattan phone number.
Water Defense has since updated its contact page.
As for Mendell’s own ties to Water Defense—he spoke at an FFC rally in October 2012 as a representative of the New York-based organization—and appeared at a June 2013 meeting of Boulder County commissioners on oil and gas regulations in the same capacity. He is listed after Tinsly as an alternate contact on the June 19 Facebook press release for Frack Free Colorado.
Before Water Defense, E&E reported Mendell’s ties to the group Frack Action in 2011, and as a self-proclaimed member of the Occupy Wall Street movement that same year.
In addition, FFC has also removed its “Campaigns” page that touted the group’s role in helping “four local campaigns get on the ballot for this historic November 2013 election, including moratoria on oil and gas development in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Loveland, and a ban on fracking in Lafayette.”
Energy in Depth reported that mid-October campaign disclosures filed by FFC listed only a token $215 donation to the campaign in Broomfield, but did not include any account of possible in-kind donations in the form of Mendell and Tinsly’s efforts on behalf of FFC while also serving as staff members of Water Defense.
The Washington Examiner highlighted several national groups that have taken an interest—and a large financial haul—in advance of a launch of “anti-fracking attack ads by a phantom ‘engagement center’ unknown to the Internal Revenue Service, led by a political flack and funded by an obscure philanthropy strategist, all based in Washington, D.C.”
That effort, headed by the “Center for Western Priorities” and led by former Senate staffer Trevor Kincaid, released their ad two weeks before the November election. Kincaid previously served Sen. Michael Bennet (D) as a campaign communications director in 2010. CWP is a project of the New Venture Fund, whose reported 2011 income was more than $36.5 million.
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