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Democrats, unions pour money into key races

Democratic candidates in pivotal state Senate races, including those of interest to education, continue to lead their Republican opponents in fundraising, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday.

Competing casino interests have wagered more than $25 million in the campaign over Amendment 68, the constitutional proposal that would allow opening a full casino in the metro area, with part of the revenues earmarked for school districts.

Three political committees funded by teachers’ union members have raised more than $490,000. But the big funder in legislative and other races is the Colorado Democratic Party, which has raised $838,938 and contributed $676,366 to its candidates. (Some union groups, such as the Public Education Committee, which is related to the Colorado Education Association, contribute to the Democrats.)

Much of the focus this year is on races for the Colorado Senate, where Democrats have an 18-17 majority and Republicans are hoping to turn a handful of key seats. Some of those races involve candidates with substantial influence over education policy, including the chair of the Senate Education Committee and the former chair of House Education.

Here are some highlights of the latest contribution and spending reports, which update 2014 totals with August activity. See the interactive chart at the bottom of this article for detailed financial reports on races that Chalkbeat Colorado has identified as important to education, including some involving members of the two education committees.


In battleground Jefferson County, Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger hold substantial fundraising leads over their GOP opponents, Tony Sanchez and Laura Woods. Kerr is chair of Senate Education, and Zenzinger is a freshman member.

Two former Democratic House members. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Judy Solano of Adams County, also are outraising Republican opponents in Senate races. Merrifield is known as a skeptic about education reform proposals, and Solano is a vociferous critic of standardized testing.

In District 5 in the central mountains, Democratic rancher and school administrator Kerry Donovan has a significant financial edge over GOP candidate Don Suppes. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Gail Schwartz, a strong supporter of higher education and the BEST construction program, is term limited.

But in Douglas County’s District 30 GOP Rep. Chris Holbert, who’s seeking to move to the Senate, has a big financial lead over Democrat Bette Davis.


Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, chair of House Education, has a comfortable financial edge of GOP hopeful Debra Irvine, whom Hamner beat two years ago.

Democratic House Education members Brittany Petterson of Lakewood, John Buckner and Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Dave Young of Greeley also have outraised their opponents.

But Republican Reps. Kevin Priola in Adams County and Justin Everett in Jeffco have fundraising leads over their Democratic challengers.

State Board

In the two contested State Board of Education races, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff is outraising GOP candidate Laura Boggs 10-1 in the 7th District. In the 3rd District, Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo has a slight funding edge on GOP incumbent Marcia Neal of Grand Junction.

Ballot measures

To no one’s surprise, the two sides in the Amendment 68 battle are raising and spending stratospheric amounts of money, mostly on television advertising. Coloradans for Better Schools, which supports casino expansion, has raised more than $12.5 million. The group is pretty much solely funded by Mile High USA Inc., which owns the Arapahoe Park racetrack. That would be the site of a casino if the measure passes. The No on 68 committee has raised $16 million – all of it anted up by casino owners in the three mountain towns where gambling already is legal.

Relatively little money is involved in the campaigns for and against Proposition 104, the Independence Institute-backed ballot measure that would require school district contract negotiations be held in public.

Outside committees

A variety of groups – small donor committees, political action committees and independent expenditure groups – focus on education-related candidates and races. The biggest one is the Public Education Committee, supported by the dues of CEA members. It’s raised $247,252 this year and contributed $167,700, all to Democratic candidates.

CEA affiliates the District Twelve Education Association and the Jefferson County Education Association Small Donor Committee have raised $135,928 and $107,105 respectively. They have spread contributions among Democratic legislative candidates.

There also are a clutch of committees associated with Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children, but their general-election giving has been relatively minor so far.

Candidates rely on more than education groups and political parties for their campaign cash. Other labor unions also are significant contributors to Democrats, but candidates of both parties rely on networks of individual donors, who give anywhere from $20 to $400, plus the long list of political action committees representing industries, professions and other groups.

Such business-related PACs often are non-partisan; they just want the winning candidate to remember them later. For example, the Colorado Ski County PAC gave $400 contributions to both Democrat Donovan and Republican Suppes in Senate District 5, home to many of the state’s ski areas.

Campaign spending in legislative races tends to focus on expenses like brochures, mailers, phone banks, yard signs, meeting expenses and – in better-funded campaigns – staff and outsides consultants.

Using Chalkbeat’s campaign finance chart: Click a candidate to see contribution and spending totals in a bar chart at the top of the graphic. Additional information will appear below a candidate or committee name. You can click on multiple candidates to see comparative information.