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Pueblo Cares unleashes $1.5 million in effort to stop a public utility

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PUEBLO — An expensive fight continues to brew over whether to let Pueblo ditch Black Hills and form its own public electricity utility. 

Dark money group Pueblo Cares has so far dropped nearly $1.5 million into an effort to keep the city from taking over the utility that has long been a source of political squabbles and community outcry over the last decade. 

The Pueblo Cares Issue Committee, a campaign arm tied to the group, reported raising $1,482,450 since the beginning of the year. In the same time period it’s spent $1,140,999.

Campaign finance reports were due to the city on Tuesday. Voters are expected to decide on ballot question 2a, which asks whether the city should cut its contract with Black Hills and move to create its own public utility, on May 5.

Most contributions came from Pueblo Cares but others came from current and former local politicos. Pueblo City Councilman Dennis Flores donated $100, Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner donated $200 and Keith Swerdfeger, a former Republican state house representative,  donated $250.  

Winner and Flores were among a band of city council members who voted down a resolution last month urging Pueblo Cares to disclose where a $700,000 campaign donation originated.

City attorney Dan Kogovsek said during a city council meeting on March 23, the dark money tactic, of funneling money from Pueblo Cares to the Pueblo Cares Issue Committee, “takes the cake” on all of the “legal baloney” he’s seen over the years. Kogovsek said he believes the group’s strategy is a violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Former State Senator John Morse, who was recalled along with Pueblo state Sen. Angela Giron in 2013 over gun control legislation, is the group’s registered agent. He leads his own accounting firm in Denver. 

The issue committee reportedly spent more than $90,000 on ad production and nearly $850,000 in media buys. Another $40,000 was spent on consultant fees at Recht Kornfeld, a Denver law firm. 

Pueblo Cares also paid for $20,000 in polling, but it’s not clear where they spent that money. 

Local media reports indicate Black Hills has apparently donated to the committee, but it’s unknown just how much money it has sunk into the effort to keep a contract with the city to provide power to its residents.