Education reform group doubles down on State Board races

A political committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform has pumped another $84,691 into support of two Democrats running for the State Board of Education, bringing the total spent to more than $200,000.

The spending by the independent expenditure committee Raising Colorado far outstrips the combined $58,539 spent by all four candidates in the 3rd and 7th districts.

The money has been spent on radio ads, direct mail and other media supporting Democrats Henry Roman in the 3rd and Jane Goff in the 7th and criticizing their opponents, Republicans Marcia Neal and Laura Boggs. Committees such as Raising Colorado make spending decisions independently and aren’t allowed to coordinate with candidates’ committees.

Raising Colorado’s involvement in the races surfaced after the Oct. 14 campaign finance disclosure deadline, when the group reported spending $70,500 on Roman’s behalf and $56,366 backing Goff. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on that spending and the motivations behind it.)

Another reporting deadline fell on Monday, and the committee reported spending another $56,442 backing Roman and an additional $28,249 in support of Goff.

Roman has raised $17,874 on his own and reported spending $6,370. Neal, the incumbent, has narrowed a prior funding gap, raising $16,220 and spending $13,893. (However, that latter amount includes about $5,000 that she spent on her June primary.)

Incumbent Goff is way ahead of Boggs in the financial race, having raised $32,731 and spent $26,869. Boggs has managed to raise only $4,472 and spend $1,507.

Raising Colorado also stuck its toe in other races, reporting spending $29,249 on direct mail to oppose Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and laying out $3,748 to buy newspaper ads supporting Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon and chair of the House Education Committee.

DFER taking a higher campaign profile

Raising Colorado’s spending isn’t the only DFER involvement in this year’s elections. So far the committee has raised $450,020 and spent $358,485. It has received most of its funds from yet another DFER-affiliated committee, Education Reform Now Advocacy. That group has spent a total of $1.9 million, much of that funneled to other, Democratic-affiliated committees that in turn redistribute the cash in support of many different Democratic candidates.

The Colorado Education Association, traditionally the big education player in campaign finance, has spent about $440,000 so far this year, spread between those Democratic-related committees, opposition to Proposition 104 and in contributions to campaign committees that are backing proposed tax increases in several districts. Small-donor committees related to CEA have contributed additional funds to candidates.

Outside cash sloshing around in many races

Democratic candidates in battleground legislative races of interest to education have continued to raise significant war chests as the Nov. 4 election nears.

The leader is Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Jefferson County, who’s raised $239,540. Close behind in a nearby district is Sen. Andy Kerr, who’s raised $217,438. Kerr is chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Zenzinger is a member.

Democrats Judy Solano of Adams County and Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs, two former House Education Committee members now seeking Senate seats, each have raised about $150,000.

And two current House Education members, Democrats Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Dave Young of Greeley, have raised about $130,000 each.

Jefferson County, evenly balanced between Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters, is ground zero for this year’s elections. As of Monday, more than 94,000 Jeffco voters already had returned their ballots, the largest number from any county. About 660,000 ballots had been returned statewide.

In addition to the outside money, Kerr is getting some other outside help. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Election Association, will be in Colorado Friday to volunteer at Kerr’s campaign office.

Candidates’ own campaign efforts have been supplemented with independent spending by that network of Democratic committees.

The candidates mentioned above, as well has many other Democrats, have benefited from independent spending of up to five figures each by committees such as Colorado Neighborhood Alliance, Save Jeffco Schools, Priorities for Colorado and others. Most of the spending is on literature, phone banks and canvassers. Those committees receive much of their funding from a group called Mainstream Colorado. (Read an explanation of how the system works in this Chalkbeat story.)

Republicans have a somewhat similar – but not as well funded – system using committees such as the Senate Majority Fund and Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government.

Using Chalkbeat’s campaign finance chart: Click a candidate to see contribution and spending totals in a bar chart at the top of the graphic. Additional information will appear below a candidate or committee name. You can click on multiple candidates to see comparative information.

Other committees mostly quiet

In addition to the big party-related committees, a number of other campaign groups focus on education. With the exception of Raising Colorado, most of those committees have been inactive for the last several weeks, having made their contributions earlier in the election cycle.

Monday’s reports, which cover activity from Oct. 9-22, are the last before the election. (The exception to that are reports from committees backing local district proposals. They have a filing deadline on Friday.)

After that, campaign committees don’t have to make post-election reports until Dec. 4.

This chart shows activity by education-related committees through Monday.

Key to chart: SDC means small donor committee, usually funded by dues or individual small contributions from a large number of people. IE means independent expenditure committee, which can spend for or against candidates, but spending can’t be coordinated with campaigns. PAC means political action committee, which can contribute directly to candidates.