Who Is In Charge

Fresh union money goes to Democrats

Nearly $133,000 in contributions from teachers’ union political committees flowed to the campaigns of Democratic legislative candidates in August, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday.

Election 2012 LogoThat’s on top of about $128,000 in contributions listed as of the previous reporting deadline on Aug. 1. The latest filings covered contributions made from July 27 through Aug. 29.

The new reports marked the entry of two new groups into the 2012 campaign – the AFT Colorado Federation of Teachers, School, Health and Public Employees Small Donor Committee and the DCTA Fund, a small donor committee associated with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

And the latest reports also contained the first union spending in a district tax proposal campaign. The Jefferson County Education Association Small Donor Committee reported a $10,000 donation to Citizens for Jeffco Schools, the primary backer of the proposed $99 million bond issue and $39 million operating funds increase that’s on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The Public Education Committee, the well-funded small donor committee associated with the Colorado Education Association, reported contributing $209,500 in the most recent period. Some $44,500 of that went to Democratic legislative candidates, with another $5,250 going to Democrats seeking seats on the State Board of Education and the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

A total of $155,000 went to three Democratic “independent expenditure” committees, groups that can support or oppose candidates but can’t coordinate with candidate committees. Those three groups are the Community Information Project, the Coalition for Colorado’s Future and the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance.

Inside the latest reports

Here are snapshots of the most recent contributions by union-affiliated political committees. Much of the money went to tight races in Jefferson County and elsewhere whose outcomes could determine which party controls the legislature in 2013-14.

In many cases the contributions are in addition to money given by union committees during earlier reporting periods.

AFT Small Donor Committee – The group give $6,000 to the Colorado Democratic Party and $2,000 each to the following candidates: Rep. Andy Kerr (Senate District 22), Sen. Linda Newell (District 26), Sen. Evie Hudak (District 28), Rep. Pete Lee (District 18), Rep. Daniel Kagan (District 3) and Dave Young (House District 50). Contributions of $1,000 each went to 11 other Democratic candidates, and donations of $500 or less to 31 others. (See a list here and the second part here.)

Public Education Committee – The group’s biggest donation was $4,500 to Emily Tracy, who is challenging GOP Rep. Randy Baumgardner in District 8, which sprawls across most of northwestern Colorado. Fourteen Democrats got contributions of $2,250, including Brittany Pettersen, who’s trying to hold central Lakewood’s District 28 seat for the Democrats, as well as Kerr, Newell, Lee and Kagan. Also receiving $2,250 was Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County, a former superintendent who’s battling in the state’s only serious three-way race this year. Hudak got $2,000. The committee gave 13 other Democrats contributions of between $250 and $1,000 apiece. (See full list here.)

DCTA Fund – The committee gave $5,000 to the Colorado Democratic Party and $2,000 apiece to Kerr and Hudak, who are running in two of the tightest Senate races this year. Smaller contributions went to 12 other Democrats.

District Twelve Educators Association Political Action Committee – The group gave $500 each to 15 Democratic candidates, including Hudak. Because it’s a PAC, not a small donor committee, the group has lower contribution limits.

JCEA Small Donor Committee – In addition to the $10,000 for Jeffco’s proposed school bond and operating tax increases, the group gave $4,399 to Hudak and $2,000 to Pettersen.

Among smaller contributions, the Boulder Valley Education Association Small Donor Committee gave $1,000 each to Mike Foote, Lee Kemp and Rep. Matt Jones and $500 to Rep. Jonathan Singer, all running in Boulder County districts. The Pueblo County Teachers’ Association Small Donor Committee gave $500 each to House candidates Chuck Rodosevich and Leroy Garcia, both running in Pueblo County districts.

Lots of cash left in the bank

Education-related groups have plenty of money left in the bank for the rest of the campaign season.

Education News Colorado reviewed “ending balance” figures for 13 union-related political committees and came up with a total of $718,156. The largest individual amounts are the the DCTA Fund ($202,531), Public Education Committee ($197,734), the District Twelve Committee ($74,221), the JCEA committee ($72,201) and the St. Vrain Valley Education Association Small Donor Committee ($38,838). The AFT committee has $22,633 on hand.

The DCTA and the AFT may be considering non-candidate spending. A $466 million DPS bond issue and a $49 million operating increase are on the ballot in Denver this year. The district’s agreement with the union includes a raise for teachers if the operating increase is approved. And Douglas County is the AFT’s base in Colorado, with a conservative school board that is considering ballot measures to further diminish the union’s role in the district.

Another CEA-related group, Educators for Public Education, has $86,593 in the bank. As a “political committee,” it faces tighter limits on candidate contributions than small donor committees have.

Committees affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children haven’t yet made legislative contributions but are expected to do so later. Stand recently endorsed candidates, and DFER plans to endorse later this month.

The next campaign finance reporting deadline is Sept. 17.

Follow the money

In Denver school board races, incumbents outpacing challengers in campaign contributions

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver school board vice president Barbara O'Brien speaks at a press conference at Holm Elementary.
Donations to Denver school board candidates as of Oct. 12
    Barbara O’Brien, At-Large: $101,291
    Angela Cobián, District 2: $94,152
    Mike Johnson, District 3: $81,855
    Rachele Espiritu, District 4: $73,847
    Jennifer Bacon, District 4: $59,302
    Robert Speth, At-Large: $38,615
    “Sochi” Gaytán, District 2: $24,134
    Carrie A. Olson, District 3: $18,105
    Tay Anderson, District 4: $16,331
    Julie Bañuelos, At-Large: $7,737

Three Denver school board incumbents brought in more money than challengers seeking to unseat them and change the district’s direction, according to new campaign finance reports.

Board vice president Barbara O’Brien has raised the most money so far. A former Colorado lieutenant governor who was first elected to the board in 2013 and represents the city at-large, O’Brien had pulled in $101,291 as of Oct. 12.

The second-highest fundraiser was newcomer Angela Cobián, who raised $94,152. She is running to represent southwest District 2, where there is no incumbent in the race. The board member who currently holds that seat, Rosemary Rodriguez, has endorsed Cobián.

Incumbent Mike Johnson, who is running for re-election in central-east District 3, brought in far more money than his opponent, Carrie A. Olson. In a three-way race for northeast Denver’s District 4, incumbent Rachele Espiritu led in fundraising, but not by as much.

O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson and Espiritu had several big-money donors in common. They include former Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman Daniel Ritchie, Oakwood Homes CEO Pat Hamill and Denver-based oil and gas company founder Samuel Gary. All three have given in past elections to candidates who support the direction of Denver Public Schools, which is nationally known for embracing school choice and collaborating with charter schools.

Meanwhile, teachers unions were among the biggest contributors to candidates pushing for the state’s largest school district to change course and refocus on its traditional, district-run schools. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund gave the most money — $10,000 — to candidate Jennifer Bacon, a former teacher who is challenging Espiritu in District 4.

It gave smaller amounts to Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running against Cobián in District 2; Olson, who is challenging Johnson in District 3; and Robert Speth, who is running in a three-person race with O’Brien. Speth narrowly lost a race for a board seat in 2015. A supplemental campaign filing shows Speth loaned himself $17,000 on Oct. 13.

The two candidates who raised the least amounts of money also disagree with the district’s direction but were not endorsed by the teachers union and didn’t receive any union money. Tay Anderson, who is running against Espiritu and Bacon in District 4, counts among his biggest donors former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who endorsed him and gave $1,110.

In the at-large race, candidate Julie Bañuelos’s biggest cash infusion was a $2,116 loan to herself. As of Oct. 11, Bañuelos had spent more money than she’d raised.

With four seats up for grabs on the seven-member board, the Nov. 7 election has the potential to shift the board’s balance of power. Currently, all seven members back the district’s direction and the vision of long-serving Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Mail ballots went out this week.

The new campaign finance reports, which were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year, show that several of this year’s candidates have already raised more money than the candidate who was leading the pack at this time in the 2015 election.

O’Brien’s biggest contributor was University of Colorado president Bruce Benson, who gave $10,000. Other notable donors include Robin Hickenlooper, wife of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne; and billionaire Phil Anschutz.

Several Denver charter school leaders, including Rocky Mountain Prep CEO James Cryan and KIPP Colorado CEO Kimberlee Sia, donated to O’Brien, Johnson, Espiritu and Cobián.

Political groups are also playing a big role in the election. The groups include several backed by local and state teachers unions, as well as others funded by pro-reform organizations.

Following the money

Douglas County slate that favors continuing school voucher court case is ahead in early fundraising, records show

Former State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. Scheffel is now running for the Douglas County school board. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A group of candidates that largely supports the direction of the Douglas County School District, especially its embrace of school choice policies, has raised nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, new financial records show.

The group, which calls itself “Elevate Douglas County,” topped its competition, the “Community Matters” slate, by more than $30,000 in monetary contributions to committees for individual candidates.

A lot is at stake in the south suburban Denver school board contest. A majority of seats on the seven-member school board are up for grabs, putting the philosophical direction of the state’s third largest school district on the line.

For eight years, the school board has pushed a conservative education reform agenda that included developing a voucher program that would allow parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private school and establishing a market-based pay system for teachers.

While the Elevate slate has promised to reconsider and tweak many of the board’s most controversial decisions, such as teacher pay, the Community Matters slate has promised to roll back many of the previous board’s decisions.

The contrast between the two groups is most stark on the issue of the school district’s voucher program. Created in 2011, the voucher program has been tied up in courts ever since. The Elevate slate supports continuing the court case and, if there is community support, reinstating the program. The Community Matters slate staunchly opposes vouchers and would end the court case.

According to records, the Elevate slate raised a total of $98,977 during the first campaign reporting period that ended Oct. 12. Grant Nelson raised the most, $34,373. The three other candidates — Ryan Abresch, Randy Mills and Debora Scheffel — each raised about $21,000.

All four candidates received $6,250 from John Saeman, a Denver businessman and the former chairman of the Daniels Fund. The foundation has financially supported the school district’s legal battle over the voucher program.

Other major contributors to the Elevate team are Ed McVaney, the founder of JD Edwards, and businesswoman Chrystalla Larson.

The Community Matters slate raised a total of $66,692 during the same period. Candidate Krista Holtzmann led the pack, raising more than $21,000. Her teammates — Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor and Kevin Leung — raised between $13,000 and $15,000 each.

Among the major donors to the Community Matters slate are Clare Leonard and Herschel Ramsey. Both Parker residents gave $1,000 each to all four candidates.

The campaign finance reports that were due Tuesday tell only part of the story. Earlier this week, special interest groups working to influence the election were required to report their spending.

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, has pumped $300,000 into the race in an effort to support the Community Matters slate.

Meanwhile, Americans For Prosperity, a conservative political nonprofit, is running a “social welfare” issue campaign promoting school choice. Because the nonprofit is not directly supporting candidates, it is not required to disclose how much it is spending. However, the organization said in a statement the campaign would cost six-figures.

Correction: This article has been updated to better reflect the Elevate slate’s position on reinstating the school district’s proposed voucher program.