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Politics and Government

UPDATE: A guide to the outside money paying for TV ads and more in Colorado’s governor’s race

With low caps on campaign contributions to candidates, big-moneyed political groups will play an outsized role

Republican candidate for governor Walker Stapleton, left, and Democratic candidate for governor Jared Polis, right. (Photos by The Colorado Sun)
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Updated on Oct. 10, 3 p.m.

The big spending in the race for Colorado governor is not coming entirely from Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton.

The two candidates reported raising nearly $23.5 million so far, with nearly $20 million in personal contributions from Polis and $1 million from Stapleton.

Even though the campaigns must adhere to strict donation limits, unlimited contributions are flowing into a vast network of outside groups — some tied to political parties and some to special interest, some reporting their finances and others not. The organizations are seeking to influence voters with messages that promote one candidate, or more often, tarnish another with negative ads.

Here’s a look at the outside groups in the governor’s race and what they want from the candidates.

(And check back later — we’ll update this guide throughout the campaign.)

Better Colorado Now

$1.7 million spent through Sept. 26

Spending: TV, radio and digital ads during the primary, canvassing and campaign mailers attacking Polis.

Who they are: This super PAC — which can take unlimited donations — formed before Stapleton entered the governor’s race and supported him in the four-way GOP primary. Stapleton raised money for the organization and it’s one of the campaign’s top allies. Nonprofit Colorado Taxpayers’ Advocate Fund recently donated $600,000; it’s unclear where that group’s money originated. Many of the group’s recent contributions came from energy interests, including $250,000 from DCP Midstream; $200,000 from Crestone Peak Resources; and $100,000 from George Solich, president of FourPoint Energy.

Who they support: Stapleton.

What they want: The various business interests are seek a more business-friendly governor, particularly when it comes to oil and gas regulations.

Republican Governors Association

$3.3 million spent through Sept. 26

Spending: TV ads.

Who they are: The RGA, a national 527 that reports its donations and spending to the IRS quarterly, has an independent spending group in Colorado to help their party’s candidate. The RGA is leading the DGA in contributions nationally and in terms of Colorado donors in this campaign cycle. RGA’s Colorado donors include Encana Corp., an oil and gas company, at $101,350; Whiting Petroleum, at $100,450; and The Anschutz Corp., at $100,000.

Who they support: Stapleton.

What they want: The RGA seeks to win gubernatorial seats in each of the 50 states, and their committee — like other super PACs — is a way for mega donors to give extra to help elect their preferred candidate.

Good Jobs Colorado

$2.3 million spent through Sept. 26

Spending: Mostly TV ads.

Who they areA state-level super PAC, Good Jobs is the top player in helping elect a Democratic governor in Colorado.  The organization has received big money from a host of other interests aligned with the party, including $920,000 from nonprofit The Sixteen Thirty Fund; $500,000 each from Education Reform Now Advocacy and State Victory Action, which is funded by billionaire George Soros and a group run by environmental activist Tom Steyer; $300,000 each from super PAC Bold Colorado, America Votes, the National Education Association and the Colorado Fund for Children & Public Education; $250,000 from the Democratic Governors Association; and $200,000 each from the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group organized by former Obama campaign staffers to support Democratic candidates.

Who they support: Polis.

What they want: The Democratic Party’s top donors and strategists are collectively working to elect Polis as governor. Polis is only accepting individual contributions of $100, so this is the main conduit for big spenders to add extra influence to the race.

Stapleton Victory Fund

Raised nearly $346,000 through July 31

Spending: Distributed $311,000 to Stapleton’s campaign and several Republican Party committees.

Who they are: The Stapleton Victory Fund is a joint fundraising committee with the state Republican Party that accepts large donations from individual donors then redistributes the money to Republican candidates and GOP committees. While the donations to the candidate campaigns are listed as a lump-sum payment, they are listed under individual donors’ names by the state-level campaign. Big donors include $14,285 each from Stapleton’s mother, Dorothy; Denver developer Walker Koelbel; and John Freyer, of Land Title Guarantee; and Freyer’s wife, Virginia.

Who they support: Stapleton.

What they want: To elect Stapleton as governor and other Republicans to major offices in Colorado as part of a party-wide effort.

State Solutions Inc.

At least $615,000 spent

Spending: TV ads.

Who they are: State Solutions is a nonprofit arm of the Republican Governors Association. Because it’s a nonprofit — known as a 501(c)4 in IRS law — it doesn’t report its donations publicly and it’s limited in what types of messages it can communicate. The group cannot endorse a candidate, but can only do issue advocacy. The spending listed is based on ad contracts filed with the  Federal Communications Commission. Because not all Colorado stations are filing contracts with State Solutions, the spending estimate is probably low.

Who they support: Stapleton.

What they want: Like other RGA efforts, the business organizations and large donors who contribute to the organization support its mission to elect Republicans to key governor’s posts.

Bold Colorado

Nearly $784,000 spent through Sept. 26

Spending: TV and digital ads in the primary, and donations to Good Jobs Colorado.

Who they are: This super PAC supported Polis in the four-way Democratic primary in June. Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a federal nonprofit, gave $300,000 to Bold Colorado. Other funding came from investors on the East and West coasts, as well as $50,000 from Alex Cranberg, a Republican energy developer known for his support of school choice.

Who they support: Polis.

What they want: The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund hopes to see an LGBTQ person elected governor.

Sierra Club Independent Expenditure Committee

About $542,000 spent

Spending: TV ads and mailers during the primary.

Who they are: The national Sierra Club, an environmental nonprofit, donated $600,000 to the state-level super PAC, saying it came from members and supporters. But the group doesn’t say exactly which members or supporters contributed the money. The organization sent mailers to support Polis in a contested primary contest.

Who they support: Polis.

What they want: The Sierra Club advocates for clean energy, land preservation, and clean air and water, and it opposes oil and gas drilling efforts.

Coloradans for Fiscal Responsibility

Nearly $497,000 spent through Aug. 29

Spending: TV and digital ads supporting Stapleton during the primary.

Who they are: This super PAC originated in 2014 to support Stapleton’s re-election as state treasurer. This year, it received $400,000 from the nonprofit Colorado Taxpayers Advocate Fund and nearly $100,000 from Better Colorado Now. Because the taxpayers advocate fund is a nonprofit, it is virtually impossible to know where the money is coming from. It’s unclear whether the group will be active in the general election.

Who they support: Stapleton.

What they want: The organization is one of the groups backing Stapleton in the governor’s race.

Colorado Republican Committee Independent Expenditure Committee

Nearly $350,000 spent through Sept. 26

Spending: TV ads.

Who they are: This is the super PAC created by the Colorado state Republican Party to raise and spend unlimited amounts as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates. These groups are new in Colorado after a legal ruling green-lighted them. Big donors include Anschutz Corp., at $300,000; Pete Coors, at $250,000; J. Martin Landis, at $150,000; and Extraction Oil & Gas and DCP Operating Co., at $100,000 each.

Who they support: Stapleton.

What they want: A Republican governor elected in Colorado.

Colorado Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity

More than $1.3 million spent through Sept. 26

Spending: TV ads.

Who they are: This super PAC reports in state filings that it is set up to “support and oppose Republican candidates for governor.” Workforce Fairness Institute, a national nonprofit, donated $360,000 this year. That group opposes labor unions. The group supported Stapleton in the primary and recently aired TV ads supporting him in the general election.

Who they support: Stapleton.

What they want: With anti-union backing, it appears this group wants to see a more business-friendly governor.

Service Employees International Independent Spending Committee

Nearly $481,000 spent through Sept. 26

Spending: Canvassing and campaign literature.

Who they are: This union represents workers in health care, government and service jobs, such as the hospitality industry. Its money has come from the national organization, which is funded by member dues.

Who they support: Polis.

What they want: The SEIU and other unions typically prefer Democratic candidates who “support working families.” The group is a top campaign ally for Polis and other party candidates this year.

Real Colorado Conservatives

$307,500 spent through the primary.

Spending: Mailers, phone calls, text messages and websites opposing GOP candidates Victor Mitchell and Cynthia Coffman during the primary.

Who they are: Real Colorado Conservatives is now defunct, but during the primary, the super PAC played the attack role on Stapleton’s opponents. All its money came from the Stapleton super PAC Better Colorado Now.

Who they support: Stapleton.

What they want: Stapleton.

Colorado Fair Share Action

More than $603,000 reported spent through Sept. 26

Spending: Canvassing and materials.

Who they are: This super PAC received money as the Colorado subsidiary of national nonprofit Fair Share. In the past, the national group has been funded by Colorado philanthropist Tim Gill and environmental groups. Because the group is a nonprofit, it isn’t clear who the current donors are because no disclosure is required. The group typically operates canvassing operations for Democratic candidates. It is also canvassing in at least two key state Senate contests.

Who they support: Polis.

What they want: Democrats elected to office.

Better Jobs Coalition

$47,500 spent through Sept. 26

Spending: Radio ads for Stapleton during the primary.

Who they are: This super PAC was created by Republican Rick Enstrom in 2016. It received $50,000 in June from ReadyCO, a conservative nonprofit working on education reform. In August, the group received $283,000 from Jim Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune who, according to Forbes, the 16th-richest person in the world. It’s unclear how the group will spend that money.

Who they support: Stapleton.

What they want: The group says it supports candidates who favor “low taxes and limited government.”