A baker’s dozen of independent expenditure committees spent just shy of $2 million on the nine hottest primary races for seats in the state House and Senate, based on the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State on Monday. Finance reports also give a hint about some of the races that will be big targets in the fall.
In all but two races, the candidates that benefited the most from the biggest spenders won their races. Independent expenditure committees are prohibited by law from coordinating with the candidates they support.
The race generating the most spending for the June 30 primary was the Republican primary in House District 22, where incumbent Rep. Colin Larson of Littleton held off a challenge from former Rep. Justin Everett.
Committees backing Larson were more numerous and spent far more money. They included the COPIC committee Assuring Quality Healthcare Access for Colorado, the Better Jobs Coalition, Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado and Coloradans for Constitutional Values. And their wallets were open, to the tune of $416,688.
While COPIC’s backing — medical liability insurance — is no secret, where Better Jobs Coalition gets its money is not so transparent. Better Jobs’ contributions lists itself as the donor for $115,000 of the $527,500 it has raised so far in the 2019-20 election cycle, along with other contributions from “Western Citizens Protecting Our Constitution” and $200,000 from Ready Colorado’s 501(c)4. Ready Colorado does not disclose its donors.
Coloradans for Constitutional Values gets its funding from Unite Colorado, with its biggest donor Kathryn Murdoch, daughter-in-law of Rupert Murdoch. Better Schools’ biggest donor is the nonprofit dark money group Stand for Children, which has in the past received millions from the Walton Family Foundation and which critics claim advocates for the privatization of public schools.
Everett’s backers: Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Make Liberty Win and CFV Victory Fund (an IEC and nonprofit formed in March by Republican Rep. Stephen Humphrey of Ault) spent a total of $24,366.
Make Liberty Win’s only money came from its Washington, D.C.-area headquarters. According to Open Secrets, Make Liberty Win PAC is funded primarily by Young Americans for Liberty, a Libertarian-leaning group started by student followers of former Rep. Ron Paul.
CFV’s largest donation in the 2019-20 election cycle is from Colorado Family Values of Greeley.
A quartet of Republican candidates backed by the same committees who backed Larson, plus a few more, also spent big in the June primary.
In the open seat for House District 48, currently held by Humphrey, who is term-limited, five IECs spent big to support Republican Tonya Van Beber. In addition to the COPIC, Better Jobs and Constitutional Values committees, Prosperity Through Property Rights and the Ready Colorado Action Fund also put money into advertising in favor of Van Beber or against her opponent, Grady Nouis.
Those committees spent $394,608 for Van Beber. While Ready Colorado gave money to the Better Jobs Coalition, its IEC Action Fund got $100,000 from Kent Thiry, former CEO of DaVita. Prosperity Through Property Rights is funded by realtors.
RMGO and Make Liberty Win supported Nouis, spending $22,517.
House District 49, currently represented by term-limited Rep. Perry Buck of Windsor, featured a race between term-limited state Sen. Vicki Marble and winner Michael Lynch.
RMGO was also the only IEC backing Marble, and they put $3,946 into advertising supporting her. The same committees that backed Van Beber also backed Lynch, spending $254,322.
House District 63 is also an open seat, held by Rep. Lori Saine of Dacono. Pat Miller’s candidacy was backed by RMGO, which spent $2,838. Spending in favor of Dan Woog totaled $292,976, from the same batch of committees backing the other winning candidates in Weld County.
The only contest where the spending was close was for Marble’s Senate District 23 seat. In that race, Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer was backed by Weld Strong, which spent $29,943 on that race. Her opponent, Rupert Parchment, backed by RMGO and Make Liberty Win, spent $20,744.
Weld Strong’s backers are primarily individuals and companies in Weld County, and include Rockies baseball owner Charles Monfort.
On the Western Slope's Senate District 8, Republican Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale won handily on election night, and it didn’t hurt that independent spending was all in his corner.
Coloradans for Constitutional Values and the Ready Colorado Action Fund put $184,875 into support for Rankin, who defeated challenger Debra Irvine.
And in Denver’s Senate District 31, where Democratic Sen. Chris Hansen was picked by a vacancy committee in January to replace Sen. Lois Court, Hansen beat Maria Ohms by five percentage points. His candidacy had support from six different independent expenditure committees, with the most money coming from the COPIC committee Assuring Quality Healthcare Access. The six IECs spent a total of $153,905 to support Hansen.
But some who spent big walked away on Primary Election Night without a win in their pockets.
That includes Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado. Their independent expenditure committee spent on just one candidate in the primary: Matthew Martinez, a Democrat running against incumbent Rep. Don Valdez in the San Luis Valley seat in House District 62. Planned Parenthood spent $4,500, and despite support from Pueblo House Democrats and $5,600 in support from the Colorado Working Families Party, Martinez lost to Valdez by 18 percentage points.
In House District 40, currently held by Speaker Pro Tem Janet Buckner, a Democrat from Aurora, who’s running for the Senate, the money favored John Ronquillo. Independent expenditure committees, including the committee run by Democrats for Education Reform, spent $143,647 to support Ronquillo, who lost to Naquetta Ricks by less than 3 percentage points.
As to the fall, several races started generating spending by independent expenditure committees barely before the ink was dry on the primary.
A dark money group known as the Colorado Values Project, which doesn’t have a committee registered with TRACER, has spent $25,299 on advertising that mentions Rankin, Democratic Sens. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada and Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village and Rep. Bri Buentello of Pueblo. The committee has spent $25,299 but the TRACER reports do not list the so-called “magic words” of either “vote for” or “vote against.”
Zenzinger’s race also is getting attention from an independent expenditure committee tied to the American Energy Action Fund, which is tied to the renewable energy industry. The committee’s only contributions come from its Washington, D.C., headquarters.