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Spending ramps up in tight races

Political committees affiliated with the Colorado Education Association are funneling significant contributions to Democratic candidates in the dozen or so races that could determine control of the Colorado legislature next year.

The Public Education Committee (PEC), the main small donor committee affiliated with the CEA, has contributed more than $75,000 to Democratic legislative candidates, most of it in the latest reporting period for contributions made from June 26 to July 26.

And six committees connected to CEA local affiliates have contributed a total of more than $53,000 to Democratic candidates.

Some $48,000 of those contributions has gone to Democrats in 14 key races, many of considered too close to call.

Democrats currently hold a 20-15 majority in the Senate, while Republicans have a 33-32 control of the House. The other key background factor in this year’s election is legislator turnover. Even if every incumbent wins on Nov. 6, there will be 36 “freshmen” in the General Assembly, 26 in the House and 10 in the Senate. (However, six members of the House are running for five Senate seats this year, so the Senate could see a lower proportion of real newcomers.)

Those two factors have made 2012 a priority election for both parties. Because 57 House seats and 16 Senate districts are considered somewhat safe to very safe for one party or the other, a lot of attention is focused on the handful of close seats. (The 35 senators serve four-year terms, so 15 Senate seats aren’t on the ballot this year.)

Contributions from teacher committees represent only a small portion of the money raised in those key races. The $48,000 is about 5.5 percent of the nearly $866,000 raised by only Democratic candidates in 14 contests. More than $312,000 of that has been raised by just three Democratic Senate candidates – Evie Hudak in District 19, Andy Kerr in District 22 and Linda Newell in District 26.

And in District 14, where Democrats are felt to have the edge, John Kefalas has raised just over $90,000. Hudak and Newell are incumbents; Kerr and Kefalas are state representatives trying to move to the other house.

But teacher committees are an important part of Democratic fundraising efforts, because they usually give the maximum amounts allowed, and because local union committees and the Public Education Committee often combine efforts in key races.

Where union money is going

Here are snapshots of union giving in the six races where teacher committees have given the largest amounts. Much of the action is in Jefferson County. Figures are through the Aug. 1 deadline for reporting to the secretary of state’s office.

Senate District 22 (Central and southern Lakewood) – Two members of the House Education Committee, Democrat Kerr and Republican Rep. Ken Summers, are facing off in a new Senate district that’s closely balanced between Democrats, Republicans and those who are unaffiliated. Kerr has raised $90,118, $7,071 of it from the PEC and from three local committees connected to teachers’ unions in Jefferson County, Adams 12-Five Star and Boulder Valley. Summers has raised $72,079.

House District 29 (Northeastern Jefferson County) – Republican Rep. Robert Ramirez, also a member of House Education, is trying to hold his seat against Democrat Tracy Kraft-Tharp, a community activist and former lobbyist. She’s raised $72,391, $6,750 of it from the PEC and the Jefferson County Education Association Small Donor Committee. Ramirez has raised $39,652.

House District 28 (Central and southern Lakewood) – Democrat Brittany Pettersen, who works for a non-profit youth organization, has raised $42,074, $4,750 of it from the PEC and the JCEA committee. Republican Amy Attwood, a businesswoman, has raised $44,007.

House District 33 (Broomfield area) – Democratic former Rep. Dianne Primavera is attempting a Capitol return against Republican David Pigott, an Iraq veteran and lawyer. Primavera has raised $67,528, $4,500 of it from the PEC and the Boulder Valley Education Association Small Donor Committee. Pigott has raised $18,261.

House District 47 (Parts of Pueblo and Otero counties) – Democrat Chuck Rodosevich, a rancher and former civil servant, has raised $35,640, $4,500 of it from the PEC and the Pueblo Education Association Small Donor Committee. Republican former teacher Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff has raised $13,912.

Other races

Teachers’ committees also have contributed slightly smaller amounts in other suburban races of interest.

Small donor committees

→ Small donor committees are funded by individual contributions that can’t exceed $50 apiece. Both unions and corporations can form such committees but can’t contribute organization funds to a committee.
→ Deductions from union dues can be used to fund small donor committees. If an individual dues deduction exceeds $20, the individual’s name must be reported.

In Senate District 28, the incumbent and former State Board of Education member Hudak, a Westminster Democrat, has raised $115,112, $2,850 of that total from the PEC and the Boulder Valley committee. Republican Lang Sias has raised $53,483. He’s also an Iraq vet and lost a Republican primary in the 7th Congressional District two years ago. The race is considered very close.

Three Democratic CEA allies have received contributions in races seen as leaning Democratic. They include Rep. Nancy Todd, seeking election in Senate District 28 ($4,425); Rep. Sue Schafer in House District 24 ($3,500), and Rep. Cherilyn Peniston in House District 24 ($3,950).

And the PEC also has given $2,250 to Democrat John Buckner in Aurora’s House District 40. Buckner, former Smoky Hill High School principal, is in a close race with Republican Rep. Cindy Acree.

The PEC has given the same amount to Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner in House District 61, which stretches from Summit County west into part of Delta County. The district has the only five-candidate legislative ballot this year, and the field includes former Democratic Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison, now an independent. The other candidates are Republican Debra Irvine, Libertarian Ellen Temby and Robert Petrowsky of the American Constitution Party.

The Libertarian Party is fielding candidates in 53 of the 80 legislative races this year.

Patterns of giving

The Public Education Committee so far has donated to 50 Democratic legislative candidates in amounts varying from $250 to $2,250. Some candidates in overwhelmingly Republican districts didn’t receive any contributions. A few safe Democrats received no contributions or courtesy gifts of $500. Sen. Mike Johnston, the leading Democratic reform voice in the legislature, hasn’t received PEC support. His District 33 in northeast Denver is safely Democratic, and his views on education don’t always mesh with those of teachers’ union activists.

Other Public Education Committee donations support Democratic candidates in indirect ways. The group has given nearly $14,000 to the Colorado Democratic Party and $50,000 each to the Coalition for Colorado’s Future and the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance.

Those two organizations are 527 groups that support general Democratic campaign efforts, such as polling and research.

Contribution season is far from over

State spending limits cap donations by a small donor committee to a legislative candidate at $2,250 during the primary election cycle and at another $2,250 during the general election campaign.

However, a candidate who didn’t receive money during the primary can receive the full combined amount – $4,500 – for the general election campaign.

So the Public Education Committee and other groups can contribute more to most individual candidates before Election Day. There are five more reporting deadlines before the election, the next on Sept. 4 and the last on Oct. 29.

The PEC had $406,234 in the bank as of Aug. 1. Local committees had more than $235,000 on hand.

Two other education-related groups, Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children, haven’t yet made legislative contributions. Officials of both groups said they are completing candidate reviews and plan to make endorsements and contributions shortly.

The DFER Small Donor Committee had $4,686 on hand as of Aug. 1. The Stand Small Donor Committee had less than $1,000 in the bank.

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