Follow the money

Denver incumbents continue to bring in more money than challengers in school board race

The last year Denverites voted on school board members — 2015. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post).
Total donations as of Oct. 29
Barbara O’Brien, At-Large: $116,046
Mike Johnson, District 3: $101,236
Angela Cobián, District 2: $97,809
Rachele Espiritu, District 4: $93,185
Jennifer Bacon, District 4: $65,272
Robert Speth, At-Large: $47,040
Carrie A. Olson, District 3: $30,524
“Sochi” Gaytán, District 2: $27,912
Tay Anderson, District 4: $18,341
Julie Bañuelos, At-Large: $12,767

Denver school board incumbents continue to raise more money than challengers who want to push the district in a different direction, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

Board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who formerly served as Colorado’s lieutenant governor and represents the city at-large on the board, continued to lead in fundraising. She’d raised a total of $116,046 as of Oct. 29, when the campaign finance filing period ended.

Close behind her was Mike Johnson, the incumbent who represents central-east Denver’s District 3, followed by political newcomer Angela Cobián, who is running to represent southwest’s District 2 and has the endorsement of the current board member.

Rachele Espiritu, the incumbent in a heated three-candidate battle for the District 4 seat in northeast Denver, had the fourth-highest fundraising total.

Johnson raised the most money — $19,381 — of any candidate in any Denver race during the 16-day filing period, which began Oct. 13 and ended Oct. 29. The filing period is the last one before Tuesday’s election.

Another candidate, Robert Speth, who is running against O’Brien for the at-large seat, brought in more money during that period, but it included $18,075 in loans to himself.

Four seats are up for grabs on the seven-member board, which means the election has the potential to shift the board’s balance of power. Currently, all seven members back the district’s direction and the vision of long-serving Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

The election has grown more rancorous in the final stretch, including heightened rhetoric about outside money and controversial campaign mailers seeking to cast supporters of the district’s strategies as allies of Donald Trump.

As of Friday, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office reported 53,949 Denver ballots had been turned in. In 2015, the last time there was a school board election, 124,119 votes were cast, which represented a 29 percent voter turnout, according to the Denver Elections Division.

Among the notable contributions in the most recent fundraising report:

Espiritu and Johnson received $10,000 each from University of Colorado president Bruce Benson. Espiritu also brought in $5,000 from Oakwood Homes CEO Pat Hamill, while Johnson got a $5,000 donation from Scott Reiman, CEO of Hexagon private investment company.

The biggest donor to Johnson’s challenger, union-backed teacher Carrie A. Olson, was the small donor committee of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which gave her $3,500.

The committee gave $2,000 to Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running against Cobián in the only race that doesn’t feature an incumbent, and $1,500 to Speth. He also received $3,500 from the Public Education Committee, a small donor committee associated with the statewide union.

The Denver union did not give any money to Jennifer Bacon, who it endorsed in District 4. Bacon’s biggest contribution was $1,000 from Denver City Council president Albus Brooks.

Tay Anderson, who is also running in the competitive District 4 race, got his largest donation — $400 — from former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who endorsed him.

Julie Bañuelos, who is challenging O’Brien and Speth for the at-large seat, got $500 from the Green Party of the United States. Bañuelos’s campaign was previously in the red, having spent more than it had raised, but that was no longer the case as of Oct. 29.

Spending by outside groups barred from coordinating with campaigns has been significant. As of reports from earlier this week, independent committees that support DPS’s brand of reform have outspent opponents, primarily committees funded by teachers unions, by a 2-1 margin.

While the pro-reform groups have invested in all four races, the union-backed committees concentrated their efforts on two: backing Bacon in the northeast Denver race and and Gaytán in the southwest Denver race.


Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.