Heidi Ganahl announces her run for governor on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at Rosie’s Diner in Monument. Ganahl, an entrepreneur, author, and member of the University of Colorado's Board of Regents, is the only remaining Republican elected statewide in Colorado. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Two Republican candidates running for statewide office in Colorado next year have agreed to limit their campaign spending, a rare move that allows them to accept up to twice as much money from their donors.

Heidi Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent running for governor, and Pam Anderson, a former Jefferson County Clerk running for secretary of state, both agreed to the voluntary spending constraints.

The candidates can now accept up to $2,500 from individual donors, up to $27,000 from small-donor committees and up to nearly $1.4 million for Ganahl and up to $271,550 for Anderson from the state Republican Party.

“We can spend less time fundraising, more time talking to voters and talking about the hyper-partisan nature of that office right now,” said Anderson, who is a former executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association.

Asked about the decision, Ganahl’s campaign did not address their strategy. But a spokeswoman said that “governorships cannot be bought at an auction.”

Here’s how the voluntary spending limits work:

The spending limits law is … complicated

Voters approved Amendment 27, a constitutional campaign finance overhaul, in 2002. It included limits on how much money candidates could accept from donors. 

But the amendment also included a loophole to those limits for candidates who agreed to keep their spending below a certain threshold.

A candidate for statewide office, legislature and a few other offices may agree to the voluntary spending limits when they first declare their candidacy. For candidates running in 2022, the limits range from $88,225 for state House candidates to $3,395,275 for candidates running for governor.

Candidates can’t raise more than the traditional limit right away, however. They must wait until an opponent raises 10% of the spending limit. 

So, in the governor’s race, Ganahl could not start accepting larger donations until Gov. Jared Polis raised about $340,000. (Polis has raised $626,000 for his reelection campaign so far.)

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, has already raised about $1.3 million, far more than 10% of the voluntary spending limit.

Ganahl raised about $135,000 in the three weeks after announcing her candidacy. About 10% of her 300-plus donations during that time exceeded the $1,250 individual donation limit for other statewide candidates.

Anderson didn’t announce her candidacy until after the last quarterly fundraising reporting deadline, so her donor information isn’t yet public.

There’s a chance to back out

Candidates who accept the voluntary spending limits have an out. 

Every time a new candidate enters their contest and doesn’t accept the voluntary spending limits, candidates who have accepted the constraints receive a letter from the secretary of state letting them know they have 10 days to back out of their pledge.

If they do abandon the spending limits, they don’t have to return any excess contributions they’ve already received. Colorado’s donation limits were  second-lowest in the nation in 2018.

Anderson said she has no intention of revoking the spending limits if other candidates get in the race, but sees the spending pledge as central to her campaign for secretary of state. 

Ganahl’s campaign didn’t respond about whether it would reconsider the spending limits at some point.

Spending limits rarely used in the past

The Colorado Sun reviewed campaign accounts for primary candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer in 2014 and 2018 and found none accepted the voluntary spending limits.

Brad Levin, a Democrat who competed for attorney general but failed to make the primary ballot, originally accepted the limits. But David Fine, his attorney, wrote to the Secretary of State’s Office that the acceptance was an error by Fine in filling out forms.

Legislative candidates more often accept the limits, but, like in Levin’s case, some have done so in error.

State Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat, initially accepted the limits for his 2018 campaign in error. He was able to withdraw from the limits when another candidate filed to run for the House seat. 

Sullivan is running for a state Senate seat in 2022, but isn’t accepting the voluntary limits.

“I’ll never do that again,” he said. “It doesn’t do you any good if you’re the only one trying to fight the righteous fight.”

Suzanne Taheri, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state, accepted the limits when she ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2020. But she never raised money over the contribution limits. 

“I never asked people for (more money) or advertised that I did it,” she said. “Part of it is, just a lot of people don’t understand what voluntary limits are. Most consultants will tell you not to take them. They’re focused on how much money you’re going to raise, so they’re trying to get you to not limit yourself.”

Successful candidates, who did not accept the spending limits, often outspent them, a Colorado Sun analysis found.

In 2010, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, spent $3.9 million on his campaign, when the voluntary cap was about $2.7 million. Two candidates who didn’t make the general election ballot that year, former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat who opted not to run, and former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, a Republican who lost the primary, each spent $2 million.

In 2014, Hickenlooper spent nearly $5.5 million on his gubernatorial reelection campaign, while his Republican opponent Bob Beauprez spent $2.9 million, about the same amount as that year’s voluntary limit.

In 2018, GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton spent about $4 million on his campaign, well over the $3.1 million voluntary limit. Victor Mitchell, one of Stapleton’s three unsuccessful primary opponents, spent $5 million, most of it his own money.

The Polis campaign spent $23.8 million, almost all of it the candidate’s own money, to win in 2018. He’s already given $438,000 from his personal fortune into his 2022 campaign. 

Polis limits his individual campaign contributions to $200, but his personal wealth means he’s got millions to spend on next year’s campaign.

Taheri said she thinks it makes sense for Ganahl and Anderson to accept the voluntary spending limits.

“I think it makes sense in the governor’s race and the secretary of state’s race,” Taheri said. “You can’t raise that much money. It’s hard to raise $3.4 million. Then you don’t have to spend as much time fundraising if your donor base has the capacity to give you bigger donations.”

And outside groups often spend more than candidates in statewide contests. In the 2018 gubernatorial contest, for instance, Republican outside groups spent $14.5 million while Democratic groups spent $10.5 million.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 8:57 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, to correct the amount of money Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl and Republican secretary of state candidate Pam Anderson can accept from the Colorado GOP after agreeing to abide by voluntary spending limits. Ganahl can accept up to nearly $1.4 million and Anderson can accept up to $271,550 .

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...