The organization behind the recall effort of three conservative school board members in Jefferson County has raised nearly half its fundraising goal in just two weeks, according to campaign finance documents.
Jeffco United for Action has raised — in mostly small and local donations — $43,981 of its $100,000 goal. The report, filed with the Secretary of State on Tuesday, signals that there is a committed grassroots effort to change the governing board of Jeffco Public Schools and that suggestions that the effort is entirely bankrolled by the teachers union are inaccurate.
A Chalkbeat analysis of the organizations first filing found that only $675 of the total raised came from outside the state. About one-fifth of the individuals who gave to recall effort listed Jeffco Public Schools as their employer. Slightly more than 90 precent of the 536 donations so far were for $100 or less. And the two largest donations were for $1,000.
One of the individuals who gave a grand to the recall group was former Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.
“I’ve seen such demoralization in the district,” Stevenson said. “I consider it a service to the kiddos and staff of Jefferson County to change the governance structure.”
Stevenson served as the district’s superintendent for a dozen years. She announced her retirement shortly after the board majority, which ran on a platform to challenge the district’s status quo, was elected. She then left her post early citing a poor working relationship with the school board’s new members.
Find out who gave in the first fundraising push to support the recall effort here.During the reporting period, Jeffco United for Action spent $5,159. Most of the organization’s expenditures thus far have been on fees for its online fundraising site.
By comparison, the political committee that supported the school board majority, Believe in Better Schools, spent slightly more than $22,000 to get Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk elected in 2013, according to campaign finance reports.
Jeffco United for Action is a political 527 group. That means it can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money on the recall effort.
The same group of individuals has also established a nonprofit organization that can also raise an unlimited amount of money. But that money can only be used to “educate” the public about issues — not directly campaign. Unlike the 527 committee, the nonprofit is not required to disclose its donors.
So far, neither the nonprofit branch of the recall effort, which paid for a direct-mail campaign last month, nor the Jefferson County teachers union has made a contribution to the 527 group. That sort of funneling of cash between nonprofits with 501(c)(4) tax status and political committees has become the status quo in elections.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit behind the political committee that supported Witt, Williams, and Newkirk is also actively seeking donations to raise awareness about what they consider positive steps for the suburban school district under the board majority.
“I think it’s incredibly unfair that [Jeffco United] is doing this,” said Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First, in an interview earlier this month. “I want to be sure that the parents who voted for this board have a voice.”
Atwell said her organization is taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether to launch another political committee to directly support candidates this fall.
Backers of the recall, which kicked off with a campaign at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, have until Sept. 8 to collect 15,000 signatures per board member they wish to recall. Organizers want to be on the regular-November ballot and not force a costly special election are pushing to get enough signatures by the end of July. They believe if the recall effort can collect enough signatures by the end of the month, there is a strong likelihood that will happen. However, there is no guarantee the recall will be part of the general election.