Outside money floods Denver mayor’s race
More than $800,000 from outside groups has been spent in the last week, mostly for TV ads. Prepare to see plenty of mayoral candidate faces on your TV for the next month.
Outside money groups, long rumored to be lurking on the sidelines, have finally entered the mayor’s race, and already they are spending unprecedented amounts of money.
Anyone watching local news in recent days is getting a taste of what the next month will be like. More than $800,000 from independent expenditure committees has been spent in the last week, mostly on TV ad buys.
“That is a lot of money going into this. That is a disturbing amount of money,” James Mejía, a political observer and a 2011 mayoral candidate, said.
Independent expenditure committees, or IE’s, are basically Denver’s version of Super PACs. They cannot coordinate with the candidate they support, but donors are free of limits the city imposes on all other contributions.
The money is flowing because the job of Denver mayor is a coveted one. It’s not just powerful, it’s a potential political stepping stone to the governor’s mansion or the U.S. Senate. Mayor Michael Hancock is serving out the final months of his 12 years in office. An open mayor seat doesn’t come around often.
This year’s field is possibly the largest in Denver history, with 17 candidates on the ballot for the April 4 election. The top two vote getters will face each other in a two month runoff.
Where’s the money coming from? And where is it going?
An independent expenditure committee called A Better Denver, supporting former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough, got on TV first, spending a total of $262,368 on “media buy” and another $54,375 on “canvass.” Their ads are running on every major TV network.
Developers and construction companies are backing A Better Denver.
The top donor is Cal Fulenwider, who has developed thousands of acres around DIA. He gave $50,000. The Colorado Construction Industry Coalition gave another $40,000. Amacon Management LLC, Freyer Investments LLC, Apartment Association of Metro Denver, Avanti Residential, and Paradise Investment Properties LLC, contributed $25,000 each.
An IE supporting Mike Johnston, Advancing Denver, is airing TV ads too, spending $380,000 in media ad buys on Feb. 27. At the same time, the IE reported several large contributions, including $150,000 from Kent Thiry, former CEO of dialysis giant Davita.
Another large contribution came from out-of-state — $117,450 from Steve Mandel, who manages Lone Pine Capital, based in Connecticut. Johnston’s own campaign committee has also received the most contributions by far from out-of-state donors, at $114,624.
“I think that in the past we’ve seen Coloradans balk at out-of-state funds trying to drive the campaign,” Mejía said. “And when people comprehend where the money is coming from, that is absolutely as significant as how much money is going in — and behind what candidate.”
Only two candidates, so far, have spent their own campaign cash to get on TV. Chris Hansen has spent more than $178,000 in ad buys, and Andy Rougeot, who is self-funding, has spent more than $57,000.
Some IE’s, though, are hiding their source of money
This is the first election with the Fair Elections Fund, which provides taxpayer matching dollars to qualifying Denver candidates, ostensibly to get big money out of politics.
But instead, money has flowed into independent expenditure committees that are free of contribution limits.
“These expenditures demonstrate that there are always ways to get around those laws,” Mejía said.
Ready Denver, an IE supporting Leslie Herod, has spent $120,000 on “Television, Digital Advertising and Production,” but the only contributor listed in city records is something called the “Ready Denver Fund.”
A business called Ready Denver was registered Jan. 17, by Scott Martinez, former city attorney for current Denver mayor Michael Hancock. Martinez wouldn’t disclose who donated to the Ready Denver Fund.
To Mejía, that’s another failure of the Fair Elections Fund — by severely limiting direct business contributions to candidates, “it does drive larger contributions underground, and it’s harder to find out who actually is giving the money.”