The Public Education Committee, the main political arm of the Colorado Education Association, has given a $50,000 contribution to a new group that has registered in support of Democratic legislative candidates.
That new organization, Save Jeffco Schools, registered with the Department of State on Sept. 4 as a 527 committee. The committee’s registration form says its purpose is “to education and inform the voters of Jefferson County re: education issues, support Democratic House candidates.”
A group of Jefferson County Senate and House districts have emerged as ground zero in the fight over which political party will control the legislature after the Nov. 6 election.
Such 527 committees can run political ads and publish campaign materials but can’t coordinate with candidate campaign committees nor “expressly advocate” for or against specific candidates. “Expressly advocate” means, for instance, running ads that say, “Vote for John Doe.”
A related committee, the Save Jeffco Schools Independent Expenditure Committee, registered on the same date. Its purpose is listed as to “to support Democratic House candidates who support public education.” Independent expenditure committees can support or oppose specific candidates but can’t coordinate with campaigns.
Because they registered recently, neither committee has filed any reports and isn’t required to do so until Oct. 16.
The registered agent for both new committees is Julie Wells of Denver, who is also the agent for several longstanding 527 and independent expenditure committees allied with the Democratic Party and labor groups such as the CEA.
Those groups, such as the Coalition for Colorado’s Future, the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance and the Community Information Project, have been heavily and often successfully involved in supporting Democratic legislative candidates over the last several election cycles. There are six committees with those three names. Three are 527s and three are independent expenditure.
The Public Education Committee earlier this year gave a total of $155,000 to the three independent committees.
How different committees work
The Public Education Committee is a small donor committee, meaning it builds its war chest through small individual contributions. Committees affiliated with teachers’ unions typically get that money through dues. And there are limits on how much small donor committees can spend on individual candidates. That ceiling is $4,500 to a legislative candidate over a full election cycle. The Public Education Committee has hit that ceiling with a number of candidates.
A second type of committee, political action committees or PACs, can receive contributions of no more than $550 and can spend no more than $550 on an individual candidate.
But there are no limits on the amounts that can be contributed to 527s and independent committees. And because they spend independently of candidates, there are no limits on spending either.
The Jeffco battleground
Democrats currently control the state Senate with a 20-15 margin, while Republicans hold the House with a narrow 33-32 majority. Because a high amount of legislator turnover this year means fewer incumbents are on the ballot, both parties are pushing hard to gain legislative majorities.
The two closest Jeffco House races are considered to be District 23 in the Golden area, where Rep. Max Tyler, a Democratic businessman, faces Republican Rick Enstrom of the Enstrom Candies family, and District 28 in Lakewood, where Democratic community organizer Brittany Pettersen is battling Republican businesswoman Amy Attwood.
Teachers’ union political committees have spent money in those districts. They also have contributed to Democrats in Wheat Ridge’s District 24, where Democratic Rep. Sue Schafer faces Republican E.V. Leyendecker, and in District 29 in the Westminster area, where Republican Rep. Robert Ramirez is considered to be trailing Democrat Tracy Kraft-Tharp, a community activist.
Two of the most hotly contested Senate races also are in Jeffco. In Westminster’s District 19, Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak is trying to hold off Republican Lang Sias. In District 22 in central Lakewood and the Ken Caryl area, two outgoing House members, Democrat Andy Kerr and Republican Ken Summers, are facing off.
Other Sept. 17 reports
Monday was the most recent deadline for candidates and most types of committees to report contributions and spending. Other than the Public Education Committee, most of the education-related committees being tracked by EdNews Colorado reported no activity since the last report on Sept. 5.
The District 12 Educators Association Political Action Committee did report $6,500 in contributions over the last two weeks. The committee gave $900 to the House Majority Project, a Democratic group, and 20 Democratic legislative candidates received contributions of $200 or $400. See the list.
The next reporting deadline for small donor committees, PACs and candidates is Oct. 1. Committees involved in school district tax election such as those in Jeffco and Denver don’t have to file fresh reports until Oct. 16.