Voters cast their ballots at downtown Denver's Bannock Street polling location on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

After unprecedented spending in the Denver school board election, Colorado lawmakers are considering limits on how much money donors can give to school board candidates.

But the legislation, which a House committee passed Thursday, won’t affect spending by independent expenditure committees or prevent wealthy candidates from funding their own campaigns.

While individual candidates sometimes receive substantial donations, the importance of candidate spending in recent school board elections has declined, as independent expenditure committees that don’t have to disclose their donors have poured money into races. Last fall one candidate, Scott Baldermann, spent more than $300,000 of his own money and defeated two opponents.

U.S. Supreme Court cases protect these types of spending, which were responsible for making the 2019 Denver Public Schools board election the most expensive in the district’s history. Total spending by candidates and committees exceeded $2 million. Given those limitations, it’s unclear what the long-term effect of this bill could be.

Nonetheless, proponents said limiting individual donations is a common-sense first step toward reducing the influence of money in politics.

“I believe contribution limits are important for the integrity of our election process,” said state Rep. Emily Sirota, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “It avoids even the appearance of impropriety.”

The legislation would limit individual donors to $2,500 per election cycle and small donor committees, such as that used by the Denver teachers union, to $25,000.

These limits mirror ones placed on donors to candidates for county office last year.


Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...