Big donations from teachers union highlight first Denver school board campaign finance report

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a late filing from District 1 candidate Kristi Butkovich.

The first campaign finance reports in the race for three Denver school board seats show big money flowing into a competitive contest in northwest Denver and large investments from the teachers union in candidates opposed to the current regime.

Lisa Flores, a former program officer with the Gates Family Foundation running for the open District 5 seat, easily led all the candidates, raising nearly $80,000. She also dwarfed the other candidates in expenditures: nearly $63,000.

A committee associated with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, meanwhile, was responsible for the lion’s share of donations to Flores’ opponent, Michael Kiley, at-large candidate Robert Speth and District 1 candidate Kristi Butkovich.

The DCTA Fund’s $38,000 given to Kiley represented nearly 70 percent of the $55,000 he raised; the $25,000 given to Speth accounted for more than 60 percent of the roughly $40,000 the candidate reported; the $21,000 contributed to Butkovich represented more than 90 percent of the $23,195 her campaign collected.

The reports — the first glimpse at the money and players invested in the campaign for control over the governing body of the state’s largest school district — were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year.

Butkovich, who is challenging District 1 incumbent Anne Rowe for the southeast Denver seat, did not file a report by the deadline, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Her report was filed Wednesday, a day late, making her campaign subject to a $50 fine.

Follow the Money | Use our database to track donations to candidates.Rowe raised nearly $19,000 in the reporting period, to go along with nearly $16,000 she already had on hand from earlier fundraising, records show.

Board president Allegra “Happy” Haynes, fending off a challenge from Speth, brought in just over $16,000 in the fundraising period. She previously had $2,800 in hand. By the first campaign finance deadline four years ago, Haynes had raised $213,000.

With three seats in play, the election result will not shift the balance of power on the DPS board. Since the last election, the board has consistently sided with the reforms of Superintendent Tom Boasberg by a 6-1 margin. Still, the result will shape the debate moving forward as the district seeks to achieve ambitious — some say far-fetched — goals to lift student achievement by 2020.

Flores not only brought in the most money, but she had the largest number of donations. Her notable donors included Stacy Schusterman, chair of oil and gas company Samson Energy Company, LLC ($5,000); Highlands Ranch retiree Walter Kirkham ($5,000); Philip Reyes of Orange, Calif., ($5,000); Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman and CEO Daniel Ritchie ($2,500); Fox Family Foundation president John Fox ($2,500); and California-based Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg ($2,000), who also wrote the bestselling book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

Others gave more, but another bold-faced name on the list is Gov. John Hickenlooper ($500). Flores formerly was a policy analyst for Hickenlooper when he was Denver mayor.

Flores’ campaign spent its haul on advertising, consultants and fundraising, records show.

Rowe brought in more modest donations in her defense of her seat in District 1. Ritchie was her biggest supporter ($2,500). Haynes — whose challenge from Speth came late — raised the least amount of money of the candidates who filed campaign finance reports. Her largest gift was $1,500.

In the 2013 board race, small and large gifts to pro-reform candidates outnumbered gifts to critics three to one.

The first campaign finance deadlines for committees not affiliated with candidates is Thursday, which will provide a fuller picture. Some committees, however, already have filed their first reports. The Public Education Committee, a small donor committee of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, reported a $6,500 contribution to Kiley.

One major player had yet to file — Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. The group is well-funded and has been active in the 2015 campaign. Well before election season, Raising Colorado received $100,000 from New York-based Education Reform Now, according to its last report with the state, which covers April through June.