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A close up of the Colorado State Capitol dome
Light filters through the dome of the Colorado State Capitol as the 2022 legislative session opened Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Colorado Democratic Party outspent the Colorado GOP threefold in the 2022 election following three previous election cycles in which the two parties were more evenly matched in campaign cash. 

The two parties have both state and federal campaign accounts from which they raise and spend money to help their candidates, sometimes through direct contributions and other times through voter persuasion efforts, like mailers and text messages. The money also pays the salaries of party officials. 

The Colorado Democratic Party’s federal campaign committee spent $9.4 million in the 2022 election cycle, compared with the $3.3 million spent by its Republican counterpart. By comparison, the Democrats’ federal campaign committee spent $8.4 million in 2014 while the GOP committee spent $8.2 million that year. 

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While the state party money is eclipsed by the dollars raised and spent by candidates and other political groups, like super PACs, it can have a sizable effect. In 2022, Democrats secured more sustained power in Colorado than they’ve ever had before. In 2014, Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat and reclaimed control of the state Senate. 

The spending discrepancy this year also highlights a broader problem for Republicans: their candidates were outraised by Democrats in nearly every major race, from statewide contests to battles over individual legislative districts. Democrat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, for instance, raised more than double the $10 million brought in by his Republican opponent, Denver construction company owner Joe O’Dea.

“The money differential is big and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Alan Philp, a Republican consultant who worked on state and federal campaigns in 2022. “It’s not just in Colorado. (Democrats are) the party of big money.”

Zack Roday, who managed O’Dea’s campaign, said Colorado Republicans have work to do on the fundraising front if they want to challenge Democrats.

“If Republicans want to be successful in Colorado, donors are going to have to step up in a bigger way,” he said. “The GOP in Colorado, they need to look in the mirror and raise more money.” 

The Colorado Republican Party defended its spending, though GOP officials acknowledged they were outraised by Democrats.

Karin Asensio, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party, said the differences in the two party’s fundraising numbers reflect a unified Democratic Party and a divided GOP.

“Democrats ran better candidates, better campaigns and, as a result, were able to attract more financial, volunteer and voter support,” she told The Sun. “We were united. We brought people together. We worked together. If you can’t build coalitions within the party, you cannot win.” 

Democratic candidates got more help from their party

The Democratic federal campaign committee spent nearly $1.6 million to directly aid several congressional candidates in the general election. Much of the money paid for mailers.

The Republican federal committee, meanwhile, reported spending $125,000 on mailers supporting O’Dea but no direct spending in other congressional contests.

The Colorado Democratic Party spent $557,000 on the U.S. Senate race, mostly on mailers supporting Bennet or opposing O’Dea. The party also spent $255,000 on mailers opposing O’Dea’s GOP primary opponent, state Rep. Ron Hanks.

Another $400,000 from the Democratic Party went to mailers in the 7th Congressional District, where Democratic state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, of Lakewood, defeated Republican Erik Aadland.

Colorado Democrats also spent nearly $305,000 in the 8th Congressional District race, where Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo narrowly beat Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer. The Colorado Democratic Party federal committee even dropped $297,000 in support of U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Centennial Democrat who easily won reelection — as expected — in the 6th Congressional District.

While the Colorado GOP’s federal spending committee didn’t report activity in those races, national Republican Party groups did. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee, for example, spent nearly $3.5 million to oppose Caraveo. The NRCC also spent $103,000 to cosponsor TV advertising Kirkmeyer. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $95,000 to help Caraveo’s campaign pay for TV ads. 

The race between O’Dea and Bennet drew limited national party interest. The National Republican Senatorial Committee spent $150,000 to cosponsor TV ads with O’Dea, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent about $88,000 to cosponsor ads with Bennet. 

No committees affiliated with the state or national Democratic or Republican parties reported investing directly in the 3rd Congressional District race between incumbent GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert and Democrat Adam Frisch, which turned out to be the closest congressional contest in Colorado. Big candidate spending in the 3rd District made up for the lack of party participation.

The Colorado GOP federal committee did report spending $180,000 on marketing before the general election. It also spent nearly $94,000 on direct mail and $61,000 on field staff in the two months leading up to the Nov. 8 election. Those expenses likely supported the party’s slate of candidates.

The Democratic Party spent nearly $1.3 million on canvassing from late September through Election Day.

The Colorado Republican Party defended its spending this year.

“The Colorado GOP spent millions of dollars this cycle — much of it indirect or uncoordinated spending — in both state and federal races because of antiquated spending limits,” said Joe Jackson, executive director of the Colorado GOP. “Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown promised when she ran for chair that significant money and focus would be spent on GOP turnout. In 2022, GOP turnout ended up being higher than Democrat or Unaffiliated turnout.”

Although Republican turnout was higher percentage-wise than that of unaffiliated or Democratic voters, Republicans make up only 25% of the state’s active voters, compared with 46% who are unaffiliated and 28% who are registered Democrats.

The Colorado Democratic Party also spent more on candidates at the state level

Democrats toured the state this fall in a bus with the slogan Moving Colorado Forward.
Democratic candidates toured the state this fall in a bus with the slogan Moving Colorado Forward. They reported spending more than $16,000 on the bus. Sandra Fish, Special to The Colorado Sun

Another key difference in the way the Colorado Democratic Party and Colorado GOP spent their money in 2022 was how much of it went directly toward helping candidates for statewide or legislative offices.

In state-level races, Democratic candidates reported receiving $595,000 in contributions or in-kind assistance from the Colorado Democratic Party. That’s more than three times the $164,000 GOP candidates reported receiving from the Colorado GOP and the GOP reported in direct assistance. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent, didn’t report getting any help from the party. Colorado contribution limits allow the political parties to give up to $679,025 to gubernatorial candidates.

Attorney general candidate John Kellner, secretary of state candidate Pam Anderson and treasurer candidate Lang Sias each received a $5,000 donation from the Colorado GOP. Sias also received $700 from the Colorado Republican Leadership Fund, the Colorado GOP’s state-level campaign committee. The state party also reported spending $5,000 for campaign consulting for both Sias and Anderson. The maximum the party was allowed to give those candidates was $135,775.

All those Republican statewide candidates lost to Democratic incumbents.

The Colorado GOP did spend on mailers, radio ads and more on specific state House and Senate candidates, with more than $90,000 targeting specific state Senate contests. That compared with $121,000 spent by the Democratic Party. But Democrats widened their margins in both the state House and Senate.

The Colorado GOP’s state-level super PAC, the Colorado Republican Committee Independent Expenditure Committee, was dormant in 2022, spending only $34,000 on legal, compliance and banking fees. That super PAC can’t coordinate with the official state party or its candidates, however.

Four years ago, that committee spent nearly $3.7 million supporting candidates for statewide and legislative offices.

Also in 2018, a federal joint fundraising committee that split money between GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton and the Colorado Republican Party raised $3.1 million. There wasn’t a similar fundraising committee for Ganahl and the GOP this year, though the party did have joint fundraising committees with O’Dea, Kirkmeyer and Aadland.

The Democratic Party had joint fundraising committees with Bennet, Caraveo and Pettersen.

National party committees are big donors to state parties

While national committees like the NRCC and DCCC spent money directly helping their parties’ congressional candidates, such committees also donated to the Colorado Democratic Party and Colorado GOP’s federal campaign committees.

The Colorado Democratic Party’s federal spending committee received nearly $2 million from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as well as $910,000 from the Democratic National Committee and $832,000 from the DCCC. 

Those donations accounted for 41% of the Colorado Democratic Party federal committee’s nearly $9 million in 2022 donations.

Crow’s campaign also donated nearly $435,000 to the Colorado Democratic Party, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s campaign gave $95,000. 

Other Colorado campaign donations included: 

  • Nearly $46,000 from Secretary of State Jena Griswold
  • $42,500 from outgoing U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada
  • $29,000 from Frisch’s campaign
  • $26,000 from U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper 
  • $25,000 from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver
  • $24,000 from U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse of Lafayette 
  • $11,650 from Attorney General Phil Weiser
  • $5,000 from Gov. Jared Polis 
  • $5,350 from Pettersen
  • $5,000 from Caraveo
  • $500 from Bennet

In some instances, such as for Caraveo, Pettersen, Griswold and Weiser, those donations were reimbursements for advertising, research or voter files. But many of the payments were simply direct donations to the Colorado Democratic Party from candidates. 

The Colorado Republican Party received nearly $510,000 from the NRSC, while the NRCC gave $330,000 and the Republican National Committee gave $345,000. That’s about 36% of the $3.3 million spent by the state GOP’s federal spending committee during the 2022 cycle.

Only four Republican congressional candidates in Colorado this year donated to the Colorado GOP. Kirkmeyer’s campaign paid $6,450 to rent a campaign office in Thornton. Boebert’s campaign gave $3,000, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, of Colorado Springs, gave $1,500, and Aadland gave $750 through personal and campaign donations.

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette