Cary Kennedy calls on Democratic gubernatorial candidates to cap primary spending at $3 million

Author: Ernest Luning - November 5, 2017 - Updated: November 5, 2017

Former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy greets Democrats outside the Denver County party's biennial reorganization meeting on Feb. 11, 2017, at Denver South High School. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)Former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy greets Democrats outside the Denver County party’s biennial reorganization meeting on Feb. 11, 2017, at Denver South High School. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Former Colorado State Treasurer Cary Kennedy on Saturday called on her fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates to limit their primary election spending to $3 million, in addition to running positive campaigns and rejecting contributions from corporate interests.

While all the leading Democrats in the race say they’re committed to running positive campaigns, none said they were willing to limit their spending in what could be one of Colorado’s most expensive statewide primaries in memory.

Kennedy’s challenge came a day after Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne issued a challenge of her own, asking gubernatorial candidates in both parties to pledge to wage clean campaigns. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston, another Democrat, said Friday he’d been running a positive campaign all along and upped the ante — saying he was refusing to accept “special interest or PAC dollars” and asking the other Democrats to join him.

“An obscene amount of money gets spent on our elections these days, and people are tired of it,” Kennedy said in a pledge her campaign distributed Saturday to Democratic rivals. “Let’s agree to scale back campaign spending in the Democratic primary.”

Calling $3 million “plenty of funding to get our names on the ballot and effectively communicate with primary voters,” Kennedy maintained that the sum far surpasses historic spending in Democratic gubernatorial primaries so “should not be a hardship for any of us.”

Nine Democrats have declared they’re seeking the office held by term-limited Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, although several haven’t reported raising any money.

The last time Democrats had a primary for governor was 1998, when Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler defeated then-state Sen. Mike Feeley. She went on to lose narrowly to Republican Bill Owens, the state treasurer. Campaign finance reports for Colorado’s 1998 election weren’t available online Sunday.

In response to Kennedy’s fresh challenge, a campaign spokesman for Johnston pointed out that he hasn’t accepted contributions from political action committees of any kind, not just corporate PACs, and wanted to know if the other candidates were doing the same.

Kennedy spokeswoman Serena Woods said Johnston’s additional demand — ruling out political action committees that represent all kinds of groups — didn’t make any sense.

“Cary is pledging to keep corporate money out of this race, but we won’t shut down the voices of working families and underserved constituencies,” she told Colorado Politics.

A campaign spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said the Democrat — one of the wealthiest members of Congress — wasn’t going to sign on to Kennedy’s proposed spending cap but pointed out that Polis is taking his own approach to curbing the effects of money in politics.

“Jared is the only candidate limiting contributions to $100 and is taking no PAC money,” Mara Sheldon, the Polis campaign’s communications director, told Colorado Politics. “He is running a clean campaign and welcomes the other campaigns to join him in signing the Colorado Democratic Party’s pledge.”

Polis, who amassed a fortune starting digital companies in the 1990s, hasn’t been shy about self-funding his campaigns. In his first race, in 2000, he spent $1 million to win a statewide seat on the State Board of Education — he won by fewer than 100 votes — and then spent just under $6 million to get past two other Democrats in a 2008 primary for the 2nd Congressional District seat, which he has held since. Polis had contributed more than $600,000 to his gubernatorial campaign through the end of September, according to the most recent campaign finance filing, and has said he’s willing to self-fund his run.

He isn’t the only gubernatorial candidate with deep pockets who’s pouring money into his campaign. Republican Victor Mitchell, a former state lawmaker and entrepreneur, seeded his campaign with a $3 million check and told Colorado Politics he plans to spend as much as $6 million to win the primary.

Spokespersons for Lynne and Democratic candidate Noel Ginsburg, a businessman, didn’t respond to inquiries from Colorado Politics about Kennedy’s challenge.

According to the latest campaign finance reports, Johnston led the pack in fundraising among Democrats, pulling in $1,254,389, followed by $711,167 raised by Polis — including his own donations — and Kennedy’s $565,439. Ginsburg was next, with $461,722 raised, and Lynne reported $374,269. (It’s worth noting, her campaign says, that Lynne only announced a few weeks before the end of the quarter, compared with the other candidates who had been in for months.)

Spending by outside groups, including independent expenditure committees set up to support particular candidates, could dwarf  the money the candidates raise and spend themselves, if recent history and early reports are any indication.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.