Denver’s 17 mayoral candidates raised $5.3 million through the end of February, with five candidates bringing in 73% of that money.
That compares with $4.6 million raised by five mayoral candidates in the entire 2019 Denver election and runoff.
Of the money raised through February, $2.3 million came from Denver’s Fair Election Fund program. The $8 million fund, which matches donations up to $50 by nine times and is in place for the first time this year, will provide a final round of money to candidates participating in the program in the middle of this month.
The election is April 4, with ballots being mailed out to voters next week.
The fundraising numbers are based on reports filed with the Denver County Clerk and Recorder’s Office by candidates on Monday.
Former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Kelly Brough leads the mayoral fundraising pack, with $619,000 in individual donor contributions and $530,000 in matching funds through February for a total of $1.1 million.
Businessman and political newcomer Andy Rougeot, the only Republican in the race, was second in fundraising at nearly $798,000. But $750,000 of that was a personal loan to his campaign. Rougeot has raised only about $48,000 from individual donors. He’s not participating in the matching fund.
State Rep. Leslie Herod was third on the fundraising list through February, having hauled in nearly $757,000. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston was fourth at $728,000 and state Sen. Chris Hansen was fifth at $443,000.
Polling indicates the 17-way race remains anyone’s to win, with a majority of voters undecided. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote on April 4, the top two vote-getters will advance to a June runoff election
Denver’s public campaign financing system, approved by voters in 2018, significantly changed the candidate fundraising landscape.
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Previously, candidates could raise up to $3,000 from each donor and accept contributions from businesses. Now, if they opt into the Fair Election Fund, they may take only $500 from each donor and they can’t take money from businesses.
As a result of the fund, most candidates are raising less money from donors. In 2019, Mayor Michael Hancock raised more than $2.9 million for his successful reelection bid. That was nearly $1.3 million more than all the cash raised by his four competitors.
Candidates spent 46% of their campaign cash
Mayoral candidates reported spending more than $2.4 million through February, with Herod leading the pack by spending nearly $405,000. That’s 53% of the amount she’s raised.
Herod has spent money on consulting, campaign literature and polling.
The $394,000 Hansen has spent is 89% of his total raised. He was the first candidate to air TV ads, starting in mid-February.
Brough, on the other hand, had spent only 33% of her campaign cash through the end of February. She began airing TV ads late last week.
Rougeot is also airing TV ads, and it’s likely that other candidates will hit the airwaves as the election nears.
Candidates will file additional campaign finance reports on March 17 and March 31.
Outside groups are spending more in 2023
Big donors are fueling big spending by political groups in Denver’s mayoral contest.
More than $1 million had been spent by outside groups on the contest through Friday, nearly double the $560,000 spent by outside groups in the entire 2019 race. Almost all of the spending was by three super PACs, also known as independent spending committees.
And with a month to go until the election, it’s likely more money will be raised and spent with more groups popping up to try to influence voters.
Here’s a breakdown of the spending thus far:
- A Better Denver has spent more than $563,000 supporting Brough. The group is running ads and also canvassing on her behalf.
- Advancing Denver has spent $380,000 supporting Johnston.
- Ready Denver has spent more than $122,000 supporting Herod.
Here’s where that some of that big money is coming from (and acknowledgement that Denverite previously reported some of this):
- The National Association of Realtors Fund contributed $150,000 to A Better Denver late last week. Much of the group’s money comes from individual donors, businesses and organizations with real estate and development interests.
- Kent Thiry, the former DaVita CEO, put $150,000 into Advancing Denver. Steve Mandel, a Connecticut hedge fund manager, donated $117,450 to the super PAC. Eight other Colorado donors made up the rest of the political action committee’s cash.
- Ready Denver Fund donated $160,000 to Ready Denver. Ready Denver Fund gets a “dark money” label from The Colorado Sun because the fund is a nonprofit that doesn’t have to reveal its donors. Scott Martinez, a Democratic election attorney and the registered agent for the group, said he isn’t authorized to disclose any information about donors.
Denver’s campaign finance rules require independent expenditure committees to report their spending within 48 hours of spending their first $1,000 and then every subsequent expenditure. Committees also report their donors as they disclose expenditures, even though the money might have been received months before.