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Incumbent Democratic Governor Jared Polis speaks during an election watch party Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis spent $12.6 million of his own money on his successful reelection bid this year, more than any other state-level candidate or group in Colorado required to make 2022 campaign finance disclosures. 

That’s according to final state-level 2022 campaign finance reports due Tuesday. The data doesn’t include money spent by political nonprofits, which don’t have to report their finances to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office or the public, and are referred to by The Colorado Sun as dark-money groups.

Polis’ 2022 spending, however, didn’t come close to the more than $23 million of his own cash spent in 2018 to win his first gubernatorial campaign. 

The No. 2 state-level political spender in Colorado this year was Total Wine & More at $12 million. The money went toward supporting Proposition 124, an unsuccessful ballot measure that would have let the retail giant open more stores in Colorado.

Democratic super PACs outspent their GOP counterparts on state-level races, as did Democratic candidates — for the most part.

Here is what you need to know about how the final campaign finance numbers in Colorado this year.

Democratic candidates dominate spending on state-level statewide contests

Polis spent a total of $13.2 million on his reelection, more than three times the $3.7 million spent by his Republican opponent, University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, who lost by more than 19 percentage points.

Polis spent $9 per vote cast in his favor in the general election, less than the $9.72 per vote he spent in the 2018 general election and far less than the nearly $40 per vote he spent winning a four-way primary that year.

By comparison, Ganahl spent $3.77 per vote cast in her favor, which was the second-highest amount by a candidate for state-level statewide office. She put more than $2 million of her own money into her campaign.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet spent $16 per vote to win reelection over Republican Joe O’Dea, who spent $9 per vote.

Three other Democrats who ran for state-level statewide office also significantly outspent their Republican opponents to win reelection Nov. 8.

Attorney General Phil Weiser and Secretary of State Jena Griswold spent more than 10 times per vote than their Republican opponents, 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner and former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson. Treasurer Dave Young spent 50 cents per vote compared with the 21 cents spent per vote by Republican Lang Sias, a former state representative.

Democrats also got more help from state-level super PACs than their Republican opponents, with Strong Colorado for All, a Democratic group, spending $7.3 million in the governor’s contest, mostly opposing Ganahl. 

Republican super PAC Deep Colorado Wells spent $3.3 million in the gubernatorial and attorney general races. That PAC was operated by Weld County rancher and oil and gas booster Steve Wells, who gave the group $11 million. But he took back $7 million of that, stopping his spending about a month before Election Day when he said it became clear Ganahl couldn’t win.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association’s state super PAC spent $2.9 million supporting Weiser and opposing Kellner. The conservative super PAC Defend Colorado spent $1.8 million supporting Kellner and Anderson while opposing Griswold and Weiser. And Defend Democracy Fund, a Democratic political action committee, spent $1.5 million supporting Griswold and opposing Anderson.

Super PACs and Democratic candidates led spending in legislative contests

Democratic candidates outspent their Republican counterparts in four of the seven competitive state Senate contests and in four of the five House districts that flipped from Republican to Democratic.

In the costliest state Senate contest, Jefferson County-based Senate District 20, Republican developer Tim Walsh loaned his campaign more than $1 million and spent about $1.2 million in his loss to Democratic state Rep. Lisa Cutter. She spent $262,000.

Democrat Janice Marchman, a former school board member, narrowly defeated Republican state Sen. Rob Woodward in Senate District 15 despite being outspent by $79,000. That district is centered in Loveland and includes parts of Boulder County, where voters preferred Marchman.

In the race to represent House District 43 in Douglas County, Democrat Bob Marshall, a retired Marine, won a narrow victory despite being outspent by nearly $39,000 by Republican Kurt Huffman, a businessman and engineer. Marshall loaned his campaign nearly half of the $120,000 it spent, while Huffman loaned his campaign $120,000 of the nearly $160,000 it spent.

Democratic super PACs also outspent their Republican counterparts on state legislative races: 

  • All Together Colorado spent more than $11 million helping elect Democratic state Senate candidates, compared with the $8.5 million spent by Senate Majority Fund, which supported Republicans.
  • Better Colorado Alliance spent $4.7 million supporting Democratic state House candidates, compared with the roughly $1.4 million spent by Restore Colorado Leadership Fund supporting GOP House candidates.
  • Unite for Colorado Action spent nearly $4.2 million to support Republican state legislative candidates.
  • Coloradans Creating Opportunity spent $2.1 million supporting Democratic legislative candidates.

Millions spent on failed liquor ballot measures

Coloradans for Consumer Choice and Retail Fairness spent $15.22 per vote in its failed effort to allow liquor retailers to open an unlimited number of stores in Colorado by 2036 through Proposition 124. More than 62% of voters rejected the ballot measure.

Colorado Fine Wines & Spirits, a subsidiary of the national Total Wine & More chain, accounted for nearly $12 million of the $13.8 million spent by Coloradans for Consumer Choice and Retail Fairness. 

Wine in Grocery Stores spent $14.6 million in support of two measures, one aimed at allowing wine sales in grocery stores starting in March and the other that would have allowed home delivery of alcohol by third-party delivery companies and let restaurants offer to-go alcohol. 

The wine in grocery stores measure, Proposition 125, narrowly passed, while the alcohol delivery measure, Proposition 126, narrowly failed. Two delivery services, Instacart and DoorDash, were the largest donors to the committee, at $4.8 million and $3.6 million respectively.

Keeping Colorado Local, which fought Propositions 124,125 and 126, spent only $903,000 against the three liquor ballot measures, with most of its donations coming from independent liquor stores.

Other notable ballot measure spending:

  • Coloradans For Affordable Housing Now spent $5.22 per vote in passing Proposition 123, which will dedicate nearly $300 million each year in existing tax revenue to affordable housing programs. Nonprofit Gary Ventures contributed nearly $2.1 million of the $6.6 million the committee spent.
  • Natural Medicine Colorado spent $4.46 per vote on Proposition 122, which legalized psilocybin mushrooms and was approved by nearly 54% of voters. Nearly $4.4 million of the $5.8 million spent came from national nonprofit New Approach and its federal PAC.
  • Healthy School Meals For All Colorado Students spent $1.32 per vote in successfully passing Proposition GG, which eliminated tax breaks for wealthy Coloradans to allow schools to provide free meals to all students. Numerous nonprofits accounted for the committee’s $1.8 million in spending.

 See more 2022 Colorado campaign finance information here.

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...