Campaign committees sitting on millions of dollars for state House and Senate races

Outside groups are poised to start dropping millions of dollars to back candidates for the state House and Senate, campaign finance reports show.

On the Republican side, the Senate Majority Fund has almost $2 million at its disposal to spend in the next two months before Election Day.

Its major donors: PDC Energy ($150,000), Noble Energy ($100,000), Chevron ($50,000), Encana Oil and Gas ($100,000), Anadarko Petroleum ($5,000) and Altria Client Services ($40,000), a division of the Altria Group, formerly known as tobacco giant Phillip Morris.

The fund’s address is shared with dozens of other campaign committees, mostly Republican, and all under the watchful eye of Katie Kennedy and her company, Strategic Compliance LLC. Kennedy is the registered agent who handles the campaign finance filings for 54 campaign committees, either on her own or in conjunction with Republican attorney John Zakhem. She has been handling campaign finance filings for committees since about 2010.

Another Kennedy-affiliated committee, Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, has raised and not yet spent $575,000 to back state House and Senate Republican candidates for the fall elections. The donors: $250,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee and the rest from the Kennedy-affiliated Senate Majority Fund.

Kennedy also handles a dozen other committees that fund-raise for state House and Senate Republican candidates, but those committees handle small amounts of money, usually less than $20,000, and have spent most of what they’re already raised.

The candidates on the receiving end of these committees’ funds include Republican Sens. Larry Crowder of Alamosa, Laura Woods of Westminster, Jack Tate of Centennial and Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs; and Rep. Kevin Priola of Henderson and Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Doty of Littleton, both who are running for the state Senate. House candidates backed by these funds include Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone and Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch.

Democrats are also building up bank accounts for the final push to Election Day, and they also have common-thread agents who handle most of their committees.

Ashley Stevens is the registered agent for a half-dozen committees that back Democrats for the state House and Senate. She often works in conjunction with Julie Wells (subscription required for this link), who has been the Democrats’ go-to person on campaign finance for at least a decade.

The largest Democratic fundraiser to date is Common Sense Values, which has taken in $1.5 million in this election cycle to support Democratic candidates. Its largest donors are the progressive Brooklyn, NY-based group Education Reform Now and Education Reform Now Advocacy ($300,000); Washington, DC-based America Votes and America Votes Action Fund ($185,000); and attorney Frank Azar ($50,000).

America Votes is the umbrella organization for a national progressive network that works to elect Democrats at the local, state and national level. It was once led by former state Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald of Evergreen, who helped the organization expand from Colorado to 16 other states. Fitz-Gerald was part of the effort in 2004 to put Democrats in control of the state House and Senate, and after that election was chosen as Senate president, the first  woman to hold that seat. *

Common Sense Values also has contributions from Altria ($5,000) and Anadarko Petroleum ($5,000), companies playing on both sides of the aisle at the state Capitol.

The committee is still sitting on $1 million for Colorado Dems with two months left before Election Day, with about $115,000 spent to date on research. Its only spending so far this cycle to support a candidate has been $25,564 in advertising for the House District 59 race between Republican incumbent J. Paul Brown of Ignacio and Democrat Barbara McLachlan of Durango.

Another Stevens-Wells managed group is Coloradans Creating Opportunities, which has raised $332,422 and has $144,718 left. Its largest donor is the Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education, which is housed at the Colorado Education Association offices. Its also received money from America Votes ($73,344) and Conservation Colorado ($50,000). This committee is a successor to the Colorado Neighborhood Alliance committee, which poured $2.6 million into state House and Senate races in the 2014 election cycle.

Sara Stevens is another registered agent who, along with Wells, works on behalf of Democratic committee and candidates. She handles Colorado Citizens’ Alliance, which to date has raised $1.62 million for this year’s elections.

The same contributors show up for this committee as for the previous two: America Votes ($185,000), Education Reform Now ($200,000), the Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education ($75,000), Conservation Colorado ($50,000) and Frank Azar ($50,000). The American Federation of Teachers also has kicked in $75,000.

The committee has spent about $100,000 on mailings, although the report doesn’t say for which candidates, and another $137,100 on research. The group has $950,000 available for the next two months.

But these groups are far from the only ones that will try to influence your vote in the next two months. In 2014, so-called “dark money” groups poured in another $3.7 million into elections in Colorado, largely in state House and Senate races, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In June, the center released a report, Secret Spending in the States, that showed only 29 percent of outside spending was fully transparent in 2014 and that “dark money” spending increased by 38 percent between 2006 and 2014. “Dark money” is the term used to refer to election spending by groups that don’t disclose their donors.

*Correction: story corrected to point out that Fitz-Gerald is the first woman to be Senate President but not the only one; Morgan Carroll served as Senate President from 2012-2014.

Photo credit: Pictures of Money, Creative Commons, Flickr. 

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.