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michael-johnston
Democratic former state Sen. Michael Johnston of Denver. (Peter Marcus/ColoradoPolitics.com)
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There’s campaign cash in political causes; just ask Mike Johnston

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If you don’t happen to have a spare $3 million in your cookie jar to kick-start your run for governor — see: Douglas County Republican entrepreneur Victor Mitchell — then it doesn’t hurt to be the favorite son of a political movement with deep pockets of its own. Education reform, for example.

That’s one takeaway from a solid and insightful piece of reporting this week by Chalkbeat Colorado’s Nicholas Garcia, who digs into the recently released, first-quarter campaign fund-raising totals of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Johnston.

You’ll recall Johnston, a former state senator from Denver, hoped to shock and awe rival Dem aspirants (and there already are a few) with his announcement earlier this month that he had raised more than $625,000 since launching his campaign in January. As the Colorado Statesman’s Ernest Luning reported at the time:

The former state senator from Denver said Monday he raised more campaign cash in a quarter than any other state candidate has in a non-election year since the advent of strict campaign finance limits in 2005 — and he did it without accepting contributions from political action committees.

Garcia’s report sifts out not only the fact that 70 percent of that early-in-the-campaign funding came from outside Colorado but also, perhaps more significantly, how much of it comes from the nation’s well-heeled education-reform network:

The list of out-of-state donors includes several supporters of the national education reform movement.

They include Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; Howard Wolfson, director of education at Bloomberg Philanthropies in New York; and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, the program that gave Johnston his start as an educator.

By way of background, Garcia points out Johnston has earned his chops in education reform and school choice:

That Johnston would generate big support from out of state is not a surprise. He is considered a rising star in the Democratic party and his education reform bonafides are well known nationally. Johnston was the architect of Colorado’s landmark 2010 teacher evaluation law, which among other things ties teacher performance to the academic growth of their students.

Yet, his out-of-state support in general is out of sync with that of recent guvs when they were at the same early stage of the race:

About 10 percent of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s first-quarter campaign donations in 2010 came from outside Colorado, records show. Less than 1 percent of former Gov. Bill Ritter’s first quarter donations in 2005 were from out of state.

Johnston got an early start on the race, and his campaign obviously has been diligent about dialing for dollars. Of course, his rivals are just getting started. 7th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy are two presumed heavy hitters who have just announced their intentions to seek the guv’s job, as well, with Hickenlooper in his last term as governor.

Enlightening stuff from Garcia; his full report provides even more helpful context and, as usual, is worth a read. Here’s the link again.

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