Opinion

NOONAN | Now’s the time to see who’s getting — and spending — in the guv’s race

Author: Paula Noonan - June 4, 2018 - Updated: June 4, 2018

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Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

The Colorado governor’s race illustrates the new normal in campaign finance.  Candidates need millions to win a primary. Six of eight candidates in the GOP and Democratic primaries have raised more than a million dollars. Victor Mitchell and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis have multiple millions through self-funding as of the most recent reports. Former state Sen. Michael Johnston has raised over $2 million and has more than $4 million in his Frontier Fairness PAC.

Dem candidate Cary Kennedy has raised over $1.6 million and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne tips a million. GOP candidate state Treasurer Walker Stapleton has collected $1.4 million-plus, less than Cary Kennedy and Michael Johnston as well as Mitchell and Polis.  Doug Robinson comes in at $750k.

The Democratic race appears more up for grabs, with candidates needing to throw everything into the primary just to get up to the racing block.  Polis and Johnston, it appears, won’t have much trouble getting more money for the general election, but if Kennedy wins, she’ll have some advantages too.

Kennedy has tapped into education funders. Local teacher unions all over the state have sent her over $80,000 in May.  More important, she’ll have teachers knocking on doors for her and an education PAC running anti-Polis and Johnston ads. Her educator support reflects multi-year frustration among regular Democrats, including teachers, who experienced the power of the east- and west-coast-sponsored organization Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) to influence education policy and funding during the Hickenlooper years.  It’s the organization that the state Democratic convention called out. And that’s the convention where Johnston didn’t show up.

Teachers consider Polis, Johnston and Lynne to be supporters of such DFER policy as annual student testing, emphasis on charter schools replacing “failing” neighborhood schools, and performance-based pay that formed the basis of the failed 2013 school finance election. Polis finances a charter school; Johnston ran the bills related to school finance, and Lynne was on Hickenlooper’s citizen committee that recommended standardized testing.

To influence the primary election, teachers have to pony up because Polis has more money than all the Democratic candidates combined and Johnston, at second place for funding, is receiving lots of cash through his campaign committee and PAC from people who live well outside Colorado.

Teachers can see donations from New York Wall Streeters such as Michael Bloomberg pour into Johnston’s campaign. The former senator also has a cadre of funders from such tony southern California cities as Santa Monica and Encino and Silicon Valley technologists from Los Altos Hills and Hillsborough. Both Johnston and Kennedy have over 300 donations at $1,150 in their May reports.  Johnston has 89 donations from out of state and 22 from Southern California.  Kennedy has 28 from out of state with eight from California.

Johnston’s Frontier Fairness PAC spent $411,463, according to May reports, in addition to Johnston’s campaign committee that spent almost $500,000. Johnston is running plenty of media, but his campaign expenditure reports show expenses of about $220,000 to Intuit over three weeks in May and payroll taxes to the IRS. No expenses show up for any media, including postage for mail.  In contrast, Polis reports almost $1 million in media buys, $255,000 in digital media and $31,250 in print and postage in May. Kennedy shows $126,000 of various media buys and consulting support.

On the Democratic side, education policy is one place where the candidates differ, and those differences are playing out in campaign finance. Johnston’s reporting makes it unclear who is paying for his media and how much is involved.  Polis, who can afford not to have a PAC or take union donations, is crystal clear as to who is creating his ads and how much the spend is.  Kennedy shows less money than Polis or Johnston. But she probably has more people on the ground.  It’s an interesting case study in money, policy, and influence.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.