Adding it Up

Happy Haynes raised and spent big money in final days of Denver school board campaign

Allegra "Happy" Haynes with Mayor Michael Hancock earlier this year. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Last-minute donations continued to flood the campaign coffers of Allegra “Happy” Haynes up until Election Day, when the incumbent Denver Public Schools board member narrowly defeated an upstart challenger by just over 900 votes, the latest campaign finance reports show.

While contributions to other DPS candidates slowed to a trickle in the week before the election, Haynes continued an eleventh-hour push to fend off opponent Robert Speth, a relative unknown who entered the at-large school board race late but proved to be a formidable contender.

Haynes, a well-known Denver political figure and head of the city’s parks and recreation department, raised $32,325 between Oct. 26 and the election on Nov. 3. Speth, a father of two who works in the telecommunications industry, raised just $4,485 during that period.

In total, over the course of the campaign, Haynes raised nearly twice as much as Speth.

Haynes’s campaign benefitted from sizable contributions made by notable donors. Billionaire former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who oversaw more than a decade of aggressive school reforms in New York, donated $5,000 on Oct. 29.

Billionaire Fort Collins heiress Pat Stryker gave $5,000 on Oct. 28. The biggest donation came from David Scanavino, a doctor and healthcare executive who is a founding board member of University Prep charter school in Denver. Scanavino gave $8,000 on Oct. 27.

Follow the Money
See all donations to the six DPS board candidates here.

Between Oct. 26 and Nov. 28 — the time period covered in the candidates’ final fundraising and spending reports, which were due Thursday — Haynes also spent far more money than Speth.

Haynes’ spending totaled $54,845 and included $13,365 for robocalls, $9,523 for mailers and $2,000 for a fundraising consultant. Speth spent $10,802, mostly on a mailer and digital ads.

Haynes’ last-minute campaigning may have made a difference. Thirty-six percent of the 124,117 ballots cast were cast on Election Day, according to the Denver Elections Division.

The candidates weren’t the only ones who raised and spent money in the election, however. Committees and organizations not officially affiliated with the candidates spent a substantial amount as well, but that money is more difficult — and in some cases impossible — to track.

In all, six candidates were running for three seats on the seven-member DPS school board. Here’s a look at their fundraising and spending:

Lisa Flores (District 5) — Raised $116,719 for the whole campaign. Spent $116,544.

Michael Kiley (District 5) — Raised $112,104. Spent $104,277.

Throughout the campaign, Flores benefitted from a vast network of small donors as well as from large donations made by national and local backers of DPS’s brand of education reform, which includes cultivating a mix of charter and traditional schools and closing schools with consistently low performance. Flores, a former senior program officer with the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, largely supports the direction of the school district.

Kiley, meanwhile, was critical of the district’s strategies and campaigned on a promise to seek a new vision for DPS — one that involved traditional schools with plenty of extracurricular activities, “professional teachers” and set boundaries instead of lotteries for getting in. He was endorsed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and he received 75 percent of his campaign funding — $84,000 — from the union’s small donor committee.

On Election Day, Flores bested Kiley with 53 percent of the vote.

Anne Rowe (District 1) — Raised $26,212 and had $15,913 on hand from her last campaign in 2011 (Rowe was an incumbent) for a total of $42,125. Spent $34,502.

Kristi Butkovich (District 1) — Raised $30,299, plus $3,300 in loans, for a total of $33,599. Spent $33,496.

Rowe, who was elected president of the DPS board on Tuesday, also strongly supports the direction of the district. She too received donations from reform proponents.

Butkovich was endorsed by the DCTA. The union’s small donor committee contributed $21,500 to her campaign, which represented more than 60 percent of her total fundraising.

Rowe won with 62 percent of the vote.

Allegra “Happy” Haynes (At Large) — Raised $120,725 and had $2,804 on hand from 2011 (Haynes was also an incumbent) for a total of $123,529. Spent $122,464.

Robert Speth (At Large) — Raised $66,881. Spent $66,711.

A similar narrative played out in the at-large race. Whereas Haynes was backed by the reformers, Speth was endorsed by the DCTA and received $40,000 from the union’s small donor committee, which represented 60 percent of the total amount of money he raised.

The difference in the at-large race was the timing of the fundraising. Most candidates, including Speth, raised the majority of their money before October. Haynes, however, raised 86 percent of her money between Oct. 9 and Election Day, as Speth’s campaign gained steam.

In the end, Haynes won with 50.4 percent of the vote.

The total amount of money raised by all six candidates this year was $476,240. That’s far less than was raised by the nine candidates vying for four open seats in the last DPS board election in 2013. That year, the candidates raised a combined total of $817,509.

In 2011, when nine candidates, including Haynes and Rowe, competed for three seats on the board, the overall fundraising total was $845,556.

The reporting deadlines for committees and organizations are different than the deadlines for candidates. The last report the groups were required to file covered spending through the end of September. The next filing deadline is in mid-January, which means that their spending in the crucial last month of the campaign will be a mystery until then.

Raising Colorado, a committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform, spent about $90,000 in support of Flores and Rowe through the end of September. All of the money raised by the committee at that point came from a group called Education Reform Now Advocacy.

New York-based Education Reform Now is a so-called C4 group. Those types of groups don’t have to publicly report their contributions or spending as long as their ads don’t explicitly direct voters to vote for or against a candidate.

Editor’s note: Chalkbeat Colorado receives financial support from the Gates Family Foundation.

DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

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.