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Politics and Government

Major corporations and political interests gave big money to Jared Polis’ inaugural committee

Colorado for All raised $1.5 million for the inauguration and spent $1.3 million -- more than twice what Gov. John Hickenlooper spent in 2015

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis addresses the crowd at his inaugural ball at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on Jan. 8, 2019. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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An organization of top business leaders and an affiliated dark-money organization topped the list of donors to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis’ inauguration.

Colorado for All, the nonprofit that hosted the Jan. 8 inauguration and “Blue Sneaker Ball,” raised $1.5 million total and spent $1.3 million, with the remainder donated to charities, according to numbers provided to The Colorado Sun late Tuesday.

The spending is more than twice the $521,000 former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper spent on his 2015 inauguration.

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Five of the donations totaled $50,000 or greater and another 18 checks totaled $25,000 each, mostly from major corporations and political interests with business at the Capitol.

The huge contributions stand in contrast to Polis’ campaign, in which he pledged to limit donations to $200 so he wouldn’t be indebted to special interests.

The largest contribution, at $185,000, came from the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, a dark-money group that spent huge sums on Republican state Senate candidates and a handful of ballot measures.

The fund is affiliated with Colorado Concern, a business organization that gave an additional $50,000 to the inaugural committee. The members and companies affiliated with the organization’s leaders gave at least another $75,000.

All told, the money affiliated with Colorado Concern amounted to one out of every five dollars raised, according to an analysis by The Sun. The group’s CEO, former Republican state Sen. Mike Kopp, did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday night.

Like most other states, Colorado doesn’t contribute money for inaugural events and it doesn’t regulate how governors raise or spend money to host the festivities as part of campaign finance law.

“Inauguration committees were not something that campaign finance experts spent a lot of time thinking about because typically they are a loophole to otherwise applicable contribution limits to a candidate,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a Brennan Center for Justice fellow who specializes in campaign finance, in an email.

MORE: See a list of all the disclosed donors below.

Some inaugural donations remain uncollected

More than $181,000 of the money came from ticket sales to the general public, which ranged from $35 to $75. Mara Sheldon, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee, said donations came from individuals, groups, nonprofits and businesses.

The cost for the ball at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science included facility rental expenses and musical acts Cyndi Lauper, and Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats.

“Their efforts not only made the events a huge success but allowed for the Colorado for All inaugural committee to make donations to five Colorado nonprofit organizations,” she said in a statement.

The committee will post a list of all major donations received to date on its website Wednesday and file federal tax disclosures in October. Additional money pledged for the event still remains to be collected, Sheldon said. The inaugural nonprofit isn’t required to list its donors, but the Polis team pledged to make the list public — even though the disclosure came well after the self-imposed Jan. 31 deadline.

Marlon Reis, Polis’ partner, served as the committee’s honorary chairman. The other leaders included Robin Hickenlooper, the former governor’s wife, and Larry Mizel, the CEO of a Denver-based homebuilder and the Colorado finance chairman for President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.

The five nonprofits that will receive the leftover money are the Animal Wildlife Sanctuary, the Governor’s Mansion Restoration Fund, Adams 14 Education Foundation, the Rose Community Foundation and One Colorado, a gay rights advocacy organization that hosted its own inaugural party for Polis.

A look at the big donors to the inauguration committee

The biggest donor, Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, also ranks as one of the top 10 spenders in the 2018 election. The group, which doesn’t have to report its donors, spent at least $2.7 million in the 2018 election cycle, and probably more, according to a Sun analysis.

MORE: Here’s how much the oil and gas industry and others spent on the 2018 election in Colorado

The group gave $1.5 million to a super PAC working to elect GOP Senate candidates, and aired its own TV ads and mailed literature on behalf of some of those candidates. But Republicans lost the state Senate, putting Democrats in control of the General Assembly and the governor’s office.

Other donors who gave at least $50,000 were Education Reform Now Advocacy, which also donated $650,000 to the super PAC supporting Polis; the Sierra Club, which spent nearly $600,000 supporting Polis during the four-way primary he won; and Tim Gill and Scott Miller.

Gill is a software developer-turned philanthropist who is a longtime ally of Polis in supporting Democratic causes and gay rights. He also is a member of the board of directors for Colorado Concern.

In addition to the 18 donors who gave $25,000, another 27 gave $10,000 and 40 donated $5,000 each.

During the campaign, Polis limited donations to $200, well below the state’s $1,150 maximum contribution, and self-financed his bid, spending more than $23 million of his own money. Colorado law forbids corporate donations to candidates.

Polis’ inaugural fundraising and spending falls in the middle of examples from nearby states.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican celebrating his second term, raised nearly $5 million for his inaugural festivities, with some donors giving $100,000.

In New Mexico, new Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham raised nearly $873,000 and spent more than $700,0000 for her inauguration, with donations capped at $11,000.

Here’s a list of donors to Colorado for All, as reported by the inaugural committee Tuesday.




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