More money has flowed into Colorado school board contests this year than in previous election cycles, as teacher unions, charter school advocates and wealthy individual donors opened their purse strings to influence hotly contested races across the state.
The spending is part of a national trend of controversial school board elections, supercharged by COVID-19, the social justice movement and other burning concerns.
The Colorado Sun analyzed campaign fundraising records for candidates and committees through October 13. The review showed that candidates in 20 school district contests in the election that ended Nov. 2 raised more than $ 1.9 million, or about $ 672,000 more than candidates from the same districts. throughout 2017.
In five districts – Cherry Creek, Windsor, Summit, Falcon and Eagle – candidates are raising tens of thousands of dollars in races that saw no political contribution four years ago.
Candidates for Colorado school boards are not subject to fundraising limits like candidates for state legislature, governor, and Congress.
âIt’s just a continued escalation of uncontrollable money in these local races,â said State Representative Emily Sirota, a Denver Democrat who lost a race at the Denver School Board in 2011 and attempted the ‘last year before the state legislature to limit contributions to the school. plateau competition. “It’s quite mind-boggling.”
The increase in spending is most dramatic in the Douglas County School District, where four of the seven board seats were up for election. (Visit ColoradoCommunityMedia.com for election results.)
Eight Douglas County candidates, four of whom were backed by the Colorado GOP, raised more than $ 444,000 through mid-October, nearly double the $ 231,000 raised by the eight candidates who ran in the district four years ago.
The four candidates approved by the GOP this year raised 71% of the total. Although the school board contests are non-partisan, Democrats and Republicans have approved the candidates this year.
In the Cherry Creek School District, six candidates vying for two seats had raised nearly $ 156,000 as of mid-month. Four years ago, the election was called off because the two seats attracted only one candidate each.
But it’s not just suburban Front Range districts that are seeing more money pouring into school board contests this year. From The Presse Montrose.
Lots of money from teachers’ unions, individuals
Teacher unions have been the biggest spenders in school board contests. Their candidate contributions focused primarily on the Denver, Jefferson, Adams and Larimer counties districts.
But individual donors have also spent a lot this year.
Lone Tree real estate developer Eric Garrett donated $ 30,000 each to four Douglas County School Board candidates – Mike Peterson, Christy Williams, Becky Myers and Kaylee Winegar, posing as “Kids First. – who were also supported by the Republican Party.
Mike Slattery, who co-owns The Emporium in Castle Rock with his wife, Andrea, gave the same applicants $ 20,000 each, while Andrea Slattery gave $ 10,000 each.
And R. Stanton Dodge, who lives in Castle Pines and is the chief legal counsel to DraftKings, donated $ 12,500 to each of those four Douglas County âKids Firstâ candidates.
Stephen Keen, a lawyer from Fort Collins, donated $ 40,000 to Jefferson County School Board candidate Paula Reed, and $ 10,000 each to Mary Parker and Danielle Varda in the same district. All three candidates were supported by the Democratic Party.
This year’s significant individual contributions stand out from previous competitions.
The Colorado Sun reviewed contributions of $ 10,000 and over to school board competitions statewide in 2017 and 2019. There were five individual contributions of $ 10,000 to school board applicants in 2017 and 21 in 2019. .
This compares to 26 such donations by individuals this year through mid-October, a statistic that does not include donors who have given multiple times and total $ 10,000 or more.
Teacher union small donor committees made seven donations of $ 10,000 or more to school board candidates in 2017 and 14 in 2019. This compares to 14 such donations so far this year.
Outdoor cash focused on Denver, Aurora competition
Independent spending committees – similar to federal super PACs – have also spent a lot this year.
Ten of those groups spent nearly $ 1.5 million on direct mail, digital advertising and other campaign efforts in 13 districts across the state, including Denver, Aurora, Jefferson and Douglas counties.
Most of the independent spending – nearly $ 818,000 – went to Denver’s four public school competitions.
The biggest spendthrift among the committees was Students Deserve Better, which spent in Denver, Jefferson County, Aurora, Cherry Creek, Brighton, and two districts in Larimer County. This group is funded by the teachers’ unions.
Parents for Great Schools, another committee that has spent large amounts of money this year, focused on the Denver races. It is funded by Denver Parents for Public Schools, a new nonprofit group that does not have to report donors.
And Colorado League of Charter Schools Action, funded by a nonprofit organization of the same name, moved to Denver, Aurora and Douglas County. The nonprofit Colorado League of Charter Schools Action also does not have to disclose its donors.
To explore candidate and committee reports through October 13 and independent expense reports, visit followthemoneyco.com.
Last year of unlimited fundraising?
Sirota, the representative for the Democratic state of Denver, said her 2020 bill to limit individual contributions to school board candidates to $ 2,500 “failed because of COVID.”
Lawmakers took a more than two-month break in mid-session and drastically changed the agenda when they returned in late May. Sirota’s bill died in Senate committee.
She said she plans to bring back the legislation in 2022, but has yet to make a decision.
âIt’s probably a better bill to run for an even year,â she said. “He’s less likely to disrupt the middle of a campaign cycle in an even year.”
This story is from the Colorado Sun, a Denver-based reporter owned outlet covering the state. To learn more and to support The Colorado Sun, visit coloradosun.com. The Colorado Sun is a partner of Colorado News Conservancy, owner of Colorado Community Media.