Libertarian think tank leads donations in Jefferson County school board recall, election

A nonprofit tied to the Denver-based libertarian think tank the Independence Institute poured $85,000 into trying to stave off the recall of three conservative Jefferson County school board members in the waning days of the high-profile campaign, new records show.

Colorado Independent Action’s donations on Oct. 23 and 28 nearly doubled the war chest of Kids Are First Jeffco, a political committee that led the unsuccessful charge to save the incumbents.

Colorado Independent Action was the single largest contributor in the combined recall and regular election for two open seats, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of all reported contributions since the recall was launched in June.

It gave a combined total of $170,000. That’s nearly $2 for every $8 raised among 17 different political committees and candidates.

The total raised by all committees and candidates between the recall and regular election for two open seats is more than $824,000.

Thursday’s filing deadline, which covers donations and expenses by candidates and committees from Oct. 26 through Nov. 28, brings the money interests for and against the school board recall into sharper focus.

Follow the money | Track donations to candidates and committees in the Jefferson County school board recall here. And track donations to the candidates for the two open seats here.However, because of lax reporting requirements at the state and federal level, it will likely never be known how much money was spent — and where that money came from — on the election and recall that ultimately reset the governing board of the state’s second largest school district.

Other findings from the reported contributions include:

  • The Jefferson County Education Association, the teachers union, donated a total of $93,000 to support the “Clean Slate” of candidates who won. That’s about 15 percent of the total money raised on the pro-recall side.
  • By comparison, The Independence Institute and Jeffco Students First Action donated a combined 87 percent of money to oppose the recall and elect two other board members for open seats.
  • At least 69 individuals, a fraction of the thousands who donated to efforts to flip the school board, made contributions to all five candidates who won. Those 69 people gave an average of $528 to the candidates.
  • The organization Jeffco United Forward, which supported the five-member slate, raised $34,034. Nearly half was raised in $10 increments in exchange for yard signs.
  • The five candidates who won office raised on average $58,758 each.
  • The candidates and incumbents that lost raised $4,310 each on average.

Most candidates and committees raised little during the last period. Most spent their remaining balance on final campaign bills and robocalls to voters.

Kids Are First Jeffco paid more than $10,000 to consultants, including $5,000 to former Colorado Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams.