Radhika Nath, a Denver school board candidate, on Thursday decried her opponents' lopsided fundraising and called on state lawmakers to institute campaign finance reforms for school board races.
“If you’re pouring this kind of money into the race that you’re getting from corporate interests or your own funding, who are you serving? It’s not the children,” said Nath, one of three candidates running for the open District 1 seat in Southeast Denver.
Nath’s comments came in the wake of reporting by education news outlet Chalkbeat Colorado that $1.3 million has already been spent by candidates and outside committees in the three Denver school board races on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Three of the seven DPS seats are on the ballot in an election that could swing control of the board from members pursuing an education reform agenda favored by district administrators to union-backed members.
“Our democracy is for sale and our children and their education is up for sale to the highest bidder,” Nath told reporters at a news conference.
Nath has reported raising $34,604, less than the totals reported by her two opponents in the race to represent board District 1 in southeast Denver. Diana Romero Campbell has raised just over $98,000 and Scott Baldermann has raised more than $352,000, including at least $309,000 he contributed to his own coffers, according to Chalkbeat.
Without naming her two opponents, Nath and her supporters called out Baldermann’s massive self-funding and Romero Campbell's prominent donors, charging that special interests were attempting to buy the election.
Colorado imposes no limits on contributions to school board candidates. Past legislative attempts to establish limits have failed, including a 2018 attempt that would have capped contributions at $500.
Nath said that she wants legislators to set contribution limits and mandate transparency in campaign finance reporting, suggesting that limits on fundraising by legislative candidates — $400 per election cycle — could also apply to the Denver school board. Her “heart’s desire,” she added, would be to establish public financing for school board elections.
Owen Perkins of CleanSlateNow Action, a local campaign finance reform advocacy group, called Baldermann’s level of self-funding “unprecedented.” Perkins, who spearheaded a 2018 Denver ballot initiative that created a mechanism for public financing and lowered limits on campaign contributions in municipal races, appeared with Nath at a press conference.
“This school board election is going on in an environment where corruption in elections and corruption in politics is about as strong in the public eye as it’s been in about 45 years,” Perkins said. “We need to bring in some kind of guardrails, something that gives us the chance to expect candidates who represent the people’s interest, not just the special interests."
Baldermann said in a written statement to Colorado Politics that he agrees corporate influence in school board races is a problem.
"That's why I have taken Clean Slate Now's 'No PAC' pledge," he said, adding that he is "investing" in his own campaign "because it levels the playing field."
"Out-of-state corporate interests are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in District 1 to try and stack the deck against local parents," Baldermann said. "I make no apologies for standing up to powerful out-of-state special interests in order to get my message out."
Romero Campbell didn't respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement from District 1 candidate Scott Baldermann.