Underground Grassroots Efforts

Defeating Amendment 66

Summary

 

Novitas worked with Coloradans for Real Education Reform (CRER) on a real life David and Goliath fight against a ballot initiative to increase Colorado’s income tax on all wage earners. Battling well-funded special interests, multiple labor unions, and two out-of-state billionaires, Novitas and CRER utilized grassroots advocacy, earned media, and social media to overcome the odds and defeat Amendment 66.

  • Developed widespread grassroots advocacy                campaign
  • Executed earned and social media campaigns            on an extremely tight budget

Challenge

In 2013, well-funded special interest groups organized a campaign to increase Colorado’s income tax on all wage earners and abandon the state’s long-standing flat tax of 4.63%. Amendment 66 was a ballot initiative that took advantage of Colorado’s low bar to petition issues onto the general election ballot. Multiple labor unions and two out-of-state billionaires funded the pro-Amendment 66 campaign with more than $12 million. They sold the nearly $1 billion-a-year tax under the guise of school reform and promising innovation but the amendment contained no assurances that the tax hike would ever make it into classrooms.

With little more than $100,000 to spend, Coloradans for Real Education Reform (CRER) faced a modern day David and Goliath scenario. But unlike David, whose material resources were limited to a simple rock and sling, CRER capitalized on earned media, social media, and a network of grassroots advocates to overcome one of the most asymmetric campaign funding landscapes in the state’s history.

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Solution

While the goal – defeating Amendment 66 – was simple, the plan was complex. Novitas developed a strategic campaign based on demographic research which indicated that working families and women would be most likely to vote against Amendment 66. These groups were still struggling through a weak economic recovery and simply could not afford to have more of their paychecks siphoned off to a spendthrift state government in the face of rising costs and stagnant wages. While the pro-66 campaign blanketed the airwaves, hung billboards, and covered busses with its messaging, the funding imbalance forced CRER to enact a disciplined approach, focusing on earned media, demographic targeting, and social media.

If CRER was to succeed against a $12 million investment from its opponents, it was going to have to develop a strategic plan that pulled every communications lever within its reach, and execute flawlessly throughout the process.

When the Amendment 66 votes were tallied, the tax increase lost in a landslide. With little money of its own, and up against an opponent with more than $12 million to spend, CRER ran a disciplined media and communications campaign to win 66% – 34%. By leveraging earned media, social media, and grassroots support, CRER demonstrated that a disciplined and strategic campaign can win, even in the face of almost unsurmountable financial resources stacked against it.

The campaign attracted national media attention including an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Rocky Mountain High Taxes.” Novitas was awarded the 2014 Silver Anvil award for its strategic plan and flawless execution.

Media Mentions