Campaign finance reports suggest state Republicans fear that uber-conservative state Sen. Laura Woods is in danger of being ousted from her Senate District 19 in the northern suburbs of Arvada and Westminster. As of this week, it has become the most expensive legislative race in the state.
The GOP has stepped up in recent weeks and given Woods (left in picture) almost three times more than it has given any other Republican candidate running for office. Woods is one of the Senate’s most conservative members and is no stranger to controversy.
Last year, she was a co-sponsor of a “Parents Bill of Rights” that raised a debate about whether parents could opt their kids out of sex ed in schools or from immunizations. She is also vehemently anti-abortion, and sat on the Republican Study Committee of Colorado, which held a hearing last November on Planned Parenthood and whether the organization was illegally trafficking in fetus body parts (despite more than a dozen investigations nationwide, those claims have never been proven). Just weeks after that hearing, a man opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people, including a pro-life police officer, and injuring nine. Two days later, Woods posted a cryptic message raising the distinction between what is legal and what is right on her Facebook page. She did not express any sympathy for the shooting victims until 83 days later.
Woods – a former court reporter and small business owner who first won the seat in 2014 – is running against former state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (right in picture), who has snagged large donations from the state Democratic Party and union groups.
Campaign finance reports filed Tuesday show the two candidates have collectively raised $346,146,17, more than any other legislative race in the state.
Woods so far has raised $123,909 in contributions compared to Zenzinger’s $176,636. Woods transferred in an additional $43,948 from her 2014 campaign.
But Woods hasn’t been spending as much as Zenzinger, and so has a substantial cash-on-hand advantage headed into the final two months of the election cycle. Zenzinger has outspent Woods by more than 2:1 through August and now has $88,355.45 in the bank for the next two months. Woods has $169,215.79 in the bank.
Woods’ disadvantage in fundraising appears to have prompted Republican officials to open up their wallets. The Colorado GOP put in two contributions totaling $21,025 in the past three weeks – a major portion of what Woods took in during the last month. She raised a total of $46,491 in August.
Those donations dwarf any other made by the GOP to a state candidate this election cycle. The next largest is a $7,500 contribution on Aug. 31 to Republican Jessica Sandgren of Thornton, who is running against incumbent Democrat Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton in House District 31.
The state GOP put only $400 in cash into Woods’ 2014 run, plus more than $17,000 in non-monetary contributions.
Woods won her first election to the Senate in 2014, defeating Zenzinger, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Democrat Sen. Evie Hudak of Arvada. Hudak resigned rather than face a recall election over her support for gun control legislation passed in 2013. Woods (who was known as Laura Waters at the time) was one of the leaders of that recall effort. She won the 2014 contest by just 841 votes, which flipped control of the state Senate to Republicans for the first time since 2004.
Both Woods’ and Zenzinger’s contribution lists reveal that many of their donations come from unidentified individual donors. These contributions flowed in from small-donor committees that don’t identify most of their unnamed “members.”
Among Woods’ donors in the past month is a small donor committee called Coloradans for Common Sense. The committee, which backs Republicans for state office, has a checkered history of campaign finance violations for filing late reports. It is run by former Republican state Treasurer Mark Hillman of Burlington.
The committee took in more than $2,000 in the past month, but hasn’t disclosed a single donor. All donations are marked as “member contributions,” and the members aren’t identified.
Coloradans for Common Sense has raised more than $41,000 in its 12-year history, but has identified only one $25 contribution by name since 2010 – that of former state lawmaker Ruth Prendergast. The committee has raised $33,714.15 in unidentified contributions in that same period.
Another small donor committee funded by unidentified donors is Homes for All Coloradans, which raises money to back pro-business, pro-property rights candidates. Woods received $4,000 from that committee in August. Its registered agent is Katie Kennedy, who handles those duties for quite a few Republican and/or business-backed committees.
One notable Woods donor from 2014 that hasn’t shown up so far this year: Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which kicked in $4,000 to Woods’ last race. An independent expenditure committee funded almost entirely by RMGO has raised about $65,000, but has spent all but $4,100 of that in support of Republican state House and Senate candidates other than Woods.
Zenzinger is an education consultant who represented the senate district for one year following Hudak’s resignation.
Her biggest donations have so far come from the state Democratic Party, which put in $17,500 into her campaign between May and July.
Zenzinger’s next largest pool of donors are from unions. Six committees funded by local, state and national teacher unions have contributed a total of $9,150, with the largest donation of $4,850 coming from a committee funded by the Colorado Education Association. She has also received money from the United Food and Commercial Workers; electrical, pipefitters and firefighters unions; and the American Federation of Labor chapter in Colorado.
Most of those groups are also small donor committees where the majority of their funds come from unidentified donors.