When New Era Colorado launched an online crowdfunding campaign last month to raise money in support of Boulder municipalization efforts, $40,000 was the target.
Thanks in part to media site Upworthy.com, the campaign had commitments for more than $138,000 by late Thursday, with 13 days left.
New Era is working with Empower our Future to try to defeat a citizen initiative that will appear on the Boulder ballot this fall as measure 310. Opponents say the debt-limit charter amendment, with ties to Xcel Energy, is aimed at killing the city's efforts to establish a municipal energy utility.
On Tuesday, Upworthy.com curator Adam Mordecai posted a New Era video under the headline: "A Bunch Of Young Geniuses Just Made A Corrupt Corporation Freak Out Big Time." The video outlines why New Era backs municipalization and casts the election as a battle against Xcel.
By 7 p.m. that day, the crowdfunding effort had received more than $80,000 in donations from across the country. The campaign is now on pace to quadruple its goal of $40,000.
"The contributions have been pretty amazing and through the roof," New Era Executive Director Steve Fenberg said. "The response (Upworthy) got was crazy. I think the people contributing see hope in what our community is trying to do here locally and want to see us succeed so other communities can learn form it."
Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said Thursday she did not understand why New Era focused its video on the energy provider. She said the debt-limit ballot question was proposed and is being supported by Boulder residents, and while Xcel has polled voters on the language, the company has not spent any money campaigning.
"They've made this a campaign about Xcel Energy, and this is not an Xcel Energy issue," Aguayo said.
According to financial filings with the city, Xcel has spent $14,214 this year on political activities related to the election under the committee name "Public Service Company of Colorado," with $9,180.49 of that in the form of legal fees.
Katy Atkinson, a spokeswoman for Voter Approval of Debt Limits, the committee supporting the debt limit amendment, raised issues with New Era raising money for political activities when it is a nonprofit, calling its efforts a "taxpayer-subsidized campaign."
"It's hard to be the campaign of big money when the other side has the big money," Atkinson said.
Financial filings show Voter Approval of Debt limits had spent $32,075 as of Aug. 23, including a $12,000 commitment to a consulting firm that Atkinson said performed polling for the group.
In the 2011 election in which Boulder voters narrowly approved a charter amendment that authorized the City Council to move forward with forming an energy utility, private proponents of municipalization spent $106,760. Xcel Energy spent $960,689.
Fenberg said New Era will include donations committed through the crowdfunding campaign in its next financial filing. Operating under the issue committee name Voters Against Xcel Buying Elections, New Era had reported $19,151 in contributions as of Aug. 27.
Fenberg said the money would go organizing efforts and advertising the organization plans to do in advance of the election.
Fenberg was unsure how Upworthy learned of New Era's campaign. Upworthy bills itself as "social media with a mission," with the goal of helping issues its curators deem important go viral.
Fenberg said he does not expect New Era and its pro-municipalization allies to outspend Xcel this election season.
Still, he said: "It gives us strength to have that much support behind us."