referendum on reform

Aurora school board candidate dollars trickle in as most money in race is coming from outside groups

A kindergartner flips the page while reading in class at Crawford Elementary in Aurora. (Denver Post file)

New campaign finance reports filed Friday show direct cash contributions for Aurora’s school board candidates have slowed down.

Each candidate’s total amount raised has moved only slightly compared to almost three weeks ago. Miguel In Suk Lovato remains the candidate with the most raised to date with $16,516, up from $14,181 in last month’s report.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick again failed to file a campaign finance report.

The election is high stakes, as Aurora Public Schools has been launching new reforms and inviting charter schools to the district. The four seats up for grabs could represent a majority on the seven-member board and the election could change the district’s direction.

Some of the large, new contributions reported included Patrick Hamill, CEO of Oakwood Homes, contributing $1,000 to the campaign of Gail Pough, and Ken Tuchman, CEO of TeleTech, a company that outsources customer service, contributing $750 to Lovato’s.

New totals: How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $11,906.32; $8,812.81
  • Lea Steed,$1,790; $895.97
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $6,385.80; $3,346.38
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,589.72
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,516; $13,239.20
  • Jane Barber, $675; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $9,253.11; $2,635.46
  • Marques Ivey, $5,473.23; $3,582.57
  • Barbara Yamrick – did not file

The group Middle Age Democratic Women, or MAD Women, donated to Pough and Jane Barber
The larger contributions reported in Friday’s filings were not cash donations, but rather in-kind services. Union-endorsed candidates — Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Debbie Gerkin, Marques Ivey and Kevin Cox — all reported large contributions of in-kind services totaling more than $12,700 for mail from the union-affiliated Public Education Committee and $3,996.50 for office space and printing contributed by the Aurora Council for Teachers and Students.

Those four candidates also reported new campaign reimbursements in an attempt to clear up what otherwise could be a campaign finance violation. Candidate committees are not allowed under Colorado law to contribute to other candidate committees.

Armstrong-Romero said Friday that what appear as contributions are reimbursements that the slate members are giving each other when one candidate pays up front for joint advertisements. Armstrong-Romero said she and the other candidates have been in touch with state officials about the matter, and no formal complaint had been filed according to state records.

Friday’s finance reports only show a piece of the money being spent to influence voters. Earlier in the week, independent expenditure committees updated their finance reports with the state.

Two committees, one affiliated with teachers unions and one affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform, together have spent more than $225,400 on trying to sway the Aurora school board election just in the second half of October. That includes filings showing more than $32,000 in spending in the last few days before Election Day on Tuesday.

Voters in this election are split between Adams and Arapahoe counties. As of Friday morning the Secretary of State’s office reported Adams County voters had returned 32,904 ballots and Arapahoe County voters had turned in 50,449 ballots.

Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.