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Politics and Government

It’s official: 2018 is the costliest year ever in Colorado politics

A week out from election day, more than $200 million has been spent on Colorado campaigns

Dome of Colorado state Capitol building on July 21, 2018. (Jeremy Martinez, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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There’s no question that 2018 is the costliest year ever in Colorado politics.

And it isn’t just multi-millionaire Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis fueling his gubernatorial campaign to the tune of $23.3 million.

Just days before Election Day, more than $200 million has poured into Colorado campaigns this year, compared with $156.6 million in 2014, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s website. That second figure is likely high because of transfers among committees that result in double counting.

Here’s a breakdown of the records and highlights:

(The numbers are based on an analysis by The Colorado Sun of Monday’s campaign filings, which cover money spent through Oct. 24. These records are the last filings before Nov. 6; a final accounting will come on Dec. 6.)

Jared Polis, outside groups set new high marks

Democrat Jared Polis, left, and Republican Walker Stapleton, right, are among the top 10 individual spenders in the 2018 Colorado elections. (The Colorado Sun)

The most recent reports show Polis put another $1.5 million into his campaign between Oct. 11 and 24.

He injected another $500,000 on Oct. 26, bringing his total to $23.3 million, keeping him on the list of top individual spenders this election. The Colorado Democratic Party also has put more than $484,000 into Polis’ campaign. Polis has raised about $457,000 from other donors, with a $100 maximum on such contributions.

Republican Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s campaign has spent more than $4 million on the governor’s race. That includes $1 million of his own cash during the primary, and $500,000 from the Colorado Republican Party for the general election.

VOTER GUIDE 2018: Resources, explainers, latest news and more

Both candidates topped the $2.9 million in spending by GOP candidate Bob Beauprez in 2014, but Stapleton is below the $5.5 million spent by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in his successful reelection bid that year.

About 30 outside groups have spent nearly $23 million on the governor’s race just during the general election, according to independent spending reports. That compares with half as many committees in 2014 that spent an estimated $14 million.

The GOP groups are outspending Democratic groups and are focusing more heavily on TV. Polis is getting more help covering the cost of voter contacts and canvassing.

The large number of outside groups makes it difficult to track the money trail. Consider the American Comeback Committee, formed in late September. It began spending about $900,000 only a couple of weeks ago on TV ads opposing Polis and supporting Stapleton.

The committee shares an address with the Republican Governors Association, and all its money comes from the RGA, IRS filings show. The RGA’s separate super PAC, the Republican Governors Association Colorado PAC, which has spent $4.5 million, was virtually stagnant in recent weeks with only $50,000 in receipts.

Other observations:

  • Environmental groups. including the Sierra Club and Conservation Colorado, are employing their PACs to support Polis at the last minute. Sierra Club announced Tuesday that it would spent $100,000 or more on direct mail, digital advertising, phone-banking and organizing for Polis.
  • Better Colorado Now, the super PAC created to support Stapleton, has now received $1.7 million of its $4 million raised from Workforce Fairness Institute, an anti-union nonprofit.
  • The National Rifle Association isn’t playing nearly the role it did in 2014, when the group spent more than $1 million opposing Hickenlooper. The group has spent about a quarter of that amount so far this year.

Oil and gas industry money nears record for ballot measure

Oil and gas facilities in Weld County on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Jacob Paul, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Protect Colorado, the oil and gas issue committee, has spent $41.2 million in its efforts to fight Proposition 112, which would require setbacks for oil and gas development, and to support Amendment 74, which would require governments to compensate people if regulations reduce the value of their property.

The group’s spending against Proposition 112, specifically, totals $30 million.

Meanwhile, Colorado Rising for Health and Safety has spent about $1.3 million in favor of the measure.

The combined total is nearing the $34 million spent by both sides in 2014 — the previous high-water mark — when voters defeated Amendment 68, an effort to allow casino gambling at racetracks.

The remainder of Protect Colorado’s spending — $11.2 million — this election went to Colorado’s Shared Heritage, the committee fighting for Amendment 74. Save Our Neighborhoods, on the other hand, has spent nearly $6 million against the measure.

Oil and gas companies have continued to pump cash into Protect Colorado, with Noble Energy leading the way at $7.7 million in total donations and Anadarko Petroleum following at $7.1 million.

Spending on state Senate races more than doubles 2014 election

Outside spending reported on state Senate contests tops $17 million through Oct. 29, compared with around $7 million in all of 2014. The spending on TV ads also far exceeds the 2016 mark, an earlier analysis by The Sun showed. Republicans are trying to preserve their slim majority as Democrats are attempting to take complete control of the General Assembly.

The battle for the state Senate is increasingly centered on the open District 20 contest in Arvada and Wheat Ridge between Democratic state Rep. Jessie Danielson and GOP businesswoman Christine Jensen.

MORE: In the battle for the Colorado Senate, Dem candidates raise more money, but cash from outside groups gives GOP the edge

Two Republican groups are focusing their attention on the contest in the final days. Better Jobs Coalition is airing television ads opposing Danielson, while Business Opportunity Fund is airing ads supporting Jensen. Vital for Colorado, an oil and gas backed organization, has put $1.2 million into the two super PACs.

Democratic candidates in key state Senate contests continue to lead their Republican counterparts in fundraising. And while Democrats are leading in outside spending in most of these contests, Republicans have a $1.6 million advantage in District 20.

Here’s a look at the the top five Senate contests:

Some key observations:

  • While there are 18 groups supporting Democrats and 13 supporting Republicans in Senate contests, most of the Democratic cash is coming from super PAC Coloradans for Fairness, which spent $6.8 million through Sept. 29. Four of the GOP groups report spending between about $1 million and $2 million each.
  • The Colorado Republican Party super PAC is now sending mostly negative mailers in several of the Senate contests. The party’s reports mention supporting candidates in the other four highly contested seats, but Republicans are now focusing less on trying to help Sen. Tim Neville retain his seat in District 16, where he faces Democrat Tammy Story.
  • Democrats also appear to be hopeful in Larimer County’s Senate District 15, where Rebecca Cranston faces Republican Bob Woodward in an open seat currently held by the GOP. Democratic groups have spent more than $388,000 on radio, TV, mailings and more there, while Republican groups are spending about $158,000, mostly on TV.

Here’s a look at where Democratic and GOP super PACs are spending money in all Senate contests:

The rest of the big money

Republican George Brauchler, left, and Democrat Phil Weiser, far right, at the Pro15 candidate debates in Weld County on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Jacob Paul, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The race for attorney general is also setting spending records.

Democrat Phil Weiser has raised $2.9 million, nearly three times what was spent by both candidates in both 2014 and 2010.

Republican George Brauchler has raised $751,000.

Outside spending on the attorney general’s race is more than $7 million, compared with about $1.6 million in 2014. Republican groups are boasting a significant advantage at $5.7 million against $1.4 million from Democratic organizations.

In the contest for Secretary of State, Democratic newcomer Jena Griswold has raised more than $1 million, compared with $301,000 for GOP incumbent Wayne Williams. Griswold’s cash is more than both candidates raised in each of the last two secretary of state’s contests.

Democratic outside groups are spending about $609,000 on the race, compared to about $429,000 by GOP groups.

Democrat Jena Griswold, left, and Republican Wayne Williams debate with other down-ballot candidates for statewide office in Colorado Springs at a face-off sponsored by The Gazette and KOAA-TV on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. (Nathan Hahn, Special to The Colorado Sun)

In the treasurer’s race, Republican Brian Watson has now loaned his campaign for state treasurer more than $1 million, with a total of $1.5 million spent thus far. His Democratic opponent, state Rep. Dave Young, has put $101,000 of his own money in the race, spending nearly $473,000.

This is more than 2014 and 2010, but not as dramatic as differences in other contests. Stapleton spent $879,000 on his 2014 run for treasurer in 2014 and $886,000 in 2010.

On a broad level, outside money continues to play an outsize role in 2018.

The national progressive nonprofit Sixteen Thirty Fund has now spent more than $10.5 million giving to Colorado super PACs and issue committees. Because nonprofits don’t have to reveal donors, there’s no way to know where that money came from.

Among Sixteen Thirty’s recipients: Save Our Neighborhoods, working against Amendment 74, at $3.5 million; Coloradans for Fairness, a super PAC working for Democratic Senate candidates, at $2.5 million; Coloradans to Stop Predatory Payday Loans at $2 million; and Good Jobs Colorado, the main super PAC supporting Polis, at $920,000.

Here’s a chart of outside spending by party in major contests:

The big picture of candidate spending

Here’s a chart with totals for statewide candidates and those in five state Senate races:


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