Democrat Mike Johnston hauls in more than $1.5 million, sets off-year gubernatorial fundraising record

Author: Ernest Luning - January 11, 2018 - Updated: January 11, 2018

Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston, center, stands with his wife and other supporters at the Colorado Commits to Kids Amendment 66 watch party Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at the Denver Marriott City Center. The amendment, which would have injected $950 million into K-12 education by changing income tax to a two-tiered system, was defeated. (The Gazette file photo)

Democrat Mike Johnston plans to report his campaign for governor has taken in more than $1.5 million through the end of 2017, breaking the modern Colorado record for off-year fundraising for any gubernatorial candidate, Colorado Politics has learned.

The former two-term state senator from Denver raised $255,640 in the 4th Quarter, which ended Dec. 31, his campaign said, including contributions from 852 people for an average donation of $300. Almost 60 percent of his donors this quarter are from Colorado.

Added to his totals from the previous three quarters, that brings Johnston’s total contributions for the year to $1,524,593 from 5,175 individual donors. The campaign didn’t release its total cash on hand at the end of the quarter. Campaign finance reports are due to the Colorado secretary of state’s office Jan. 16.

Johnston is one of 10 Democrats running for the office held by term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. Nine Republicans and a handful of third-party and unaffiliated candidates are also seeking the office.

Johnston is the first of the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates to release his total for the most recent fundraising quarter. Earlier this week, Colorado Politics was first to report that Republican candidate Walker Stapleton, the state treasurer, has raised about $750,000 for the 4th Quarter, his first in the race. Johnston launched his campaign in January last year.

“I am grateful for the enthusiasm Coloradans have shown for our campaign,” Johnston said in a statement. “And I am excited to be well positioned to move into the election year prepared to deliver voters our message of bringing people together to achieve real, progressive results for the people of Colorado.”

The former teacher and school principal surpasses the record for fundraising by a candidate for governor during an off-year since the state’s strict campaign finance limits took effect — the $1,493,659 brought in by Bill Ritter in 2009, when the Democrat was gearing up to run for a second term. (Ritter decided a few months later against seeking reelection.) Colorado imposed new campaign finance limits on state candidates after the 2002 election cycle, including banning corporate contributions and lowering the maximum donations to a candidate.

It appears Stapleton’s haul for the last quarter will to beat a record Johnston set with his first-quarter fundraising last year, when he reported contributions of more than $625,000 — at the time, the high-water mark for an off-year quarter since current fundraising rules have been in place.

Spending on this year’s race to replace Hickenlooper could dwarf previous sums, with two well-heeled candidates who have said they’re willing to pour millions into their campaigns — U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, and former state Rep. Victor Mitchell, a Douglas County Republican who has started and run numerous businesses — as well as fundraising powerhouses in both parties. In addition to money the candidates raise, several of them will benefit from independent expenditure committees operating on their behalf.

“I’m humbled by the interest in our campaign, as shown not just by the contributions but by the thousands of folks from across the state who have offered to volunteer their time for us in the coming weeks,” Johnston added. “It’s exciting to move forward into 2018 with so much momentum and support for our campaign. We are building the grassroots campaign that will be necessary to overcome the ability of some in this field to write personal million-dollar checks.”

While Polis’ contributions to his own campaign so far have been modest — roughly $630,000 through Sept. 30, according to his most recent filing, compared with nearly $6 million he spent on his first congressional campaign in 2008 — Mitchell opened his campaign bank account by writing himself a $3 million check and has said he’s willing to spend twice that much.

Johnston has a slew of organizers working across the state to build a volunteer corps, his campaign said, and the candidate has met with voters in 55 of Colorado’s 64 counties over the past year.

Along with Johnston and Polis, the other major Democratic candidates for governor are Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy and businessman and civic leader Noel Ginsburg.

In addition to Stapleton and Mitchell, the leading GOP candidates include former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, former investment banker Doug Robinson, Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired the Denver Trump campaign in 2016.

The primary election is June 26, and unaffiliated candidates will be able to cast ballots in either major parties’ primary without having to join them for the first time this year.

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.