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Committee filings shed financial light

A handful of political committees active in school board races in Jefferson County, Denver and Westminster filed campaign finance reports Tuesday night, showing how their dollars benefited their board picks until a few days before the election.

The committees were created and largely funded by teachers’ unions and Stand for Children Colorado, a national advocacy group whose endorsements were typically at odds with the union choices. In Westminster, however, the statewide teachers’ union and Stand joined forces.

The reporting period covered by the reports is from Nov. 28, 2010 through Oct. 27, 2011 – or through the Thursday before this week’s election. That means contributions and expenditures during the final weekend campaign push aren’t included.

In addition, candidates have one more campaign finance report due Dec. 1, which covers the period from Oct. 24 through Nov. 26. So a more complete picture of money spent to secure school board seats won’t emerge until then.

But the filings do shed some financial light, particularly in Jefferson County, where the district teachers’ union and the statewide Colorado Education Association combined to give $189,500 to Kids Come First, an independent expenditure committee that spent nearly $180,000 on mailers, automated phone calls or “robocalls” and canvassing in support of candidates Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper.

The only other donors to the committee were three individuals who gave a combined total of $125.

Dahlkemper and Fellman, who also outraised their opponents through their own candidate committees, handily defeated Preston Branaugh and Jim Powers, who ran as a slate endorsed by Jeffco’s Republican Party.

In Denver, the district teachers’ union and the CEA were the sole donors to Delta 4.0, a 527 political organization that supported candidates Emily Sirota in southeast Denver and Arturo Jimenez in northwest Denver. The unions contributed $86,000, all of which was spent during the reporting period.

Sirota was defeated by Anne Rowe, who was endorsed by Stand for Children, while Jimenez appeared to eke out a 144-vote victory over Jennifer Draper Carson, also endorsed by Stand.

The Stand for Children filing shows the political committee raised more than $121,000 and spent $89,000 during the reporting period. Virtually all of the money was spent on non-monetary contributions of staff support and canvassing to assist Rowe, Draper Carson and at-large candidate Happy Haynes, who easily won her seat.

The amounts raised and spent were much smaller in Westminster, where the CEA contributed $9,990 and Stand for Children Inc., based out of Portland, Ore., contributed $20,000 to an independent expenditure committee called Accountability for Westminster’s Students and Schools.

The only other contributor was a Denver non-profit, Great Schools for Great Kids, which donated $495.

But the group lists zero dollars spent during the reporting period, indicating it either decided to sit out the election or waited until the final days before Nov. 1 to support candidates.

Another Stand group, Stand for Children Adams 50 political committee, reported $2,500 in contributions and $800 in expenditures during the reporting period. The committee reports all $2,500 came in as contributions of $19.99 or less, meaning the amounts aren’t required to be itemized and identified by donor.

Similarly, the Stand for Children in Denver political committee lists $110,823 as coming in contributions of $19.99 or less. The other $10,905 received by the group is reported as coming from 29 donors, all with Colorado addresses, who gave between $45 and $550.

Large sums of non-itemized monetary contributions are most common in campaign finance reports filed by unions or associations where membership dues are deducted and used for political activity.

In Westminster, Stand endorsed three of six candidate running for the board, in an election where the top three vote-getters win. Only one of the Stand-backed candidates was elected.

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