As seen on TV: Super PAC spending in the Colorado governor’s race

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Two Super PACs will advertise heavily on TV in support of Democratic candidates for governor Cary Kennedy and Mike Johnston in the month before the June 26 primary election.

But they still don’t appear to rival self-funded Congressman Jared Polis in the four-way contest.

Meanwhile, Republican businessman and self-funder Victor Mitchell continues to lead the GOP gubernatorial pack (and PACs) in the race to the airwaves with little activity from the other three candidates.

That’s according to an analysis of TV ad contracts filed by Colorado stations and cable providers with the Federal Communications Commission from January through May 11.

Here’s a look at the top spenders:

Frontier Fairness is airing at least $1 million to support former state Sen. Johnston, in a campaign that began in late April. Big donors include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and DaVita CEO Kent Thiry.

Teachers for Kennedy is on the books for more than $660,000 in support of former State Treasurer Kennedy. The ads begin on Memorial Day and air through June 26. The group is spending $1.2 million in Denver and another $200,000 in Colorado Springs. It’s unclear thus far who the group’s big donors are because names are not yet listed in a state public database. More will be revealed in May 21 campaign finance reports.

Numbers the FCC show for such groups are lower than what the groups are actually spending. Federal law does not require the filing of contracts for state-level independent spending groups, so many stations just don’t file. The independent spending groups may take unlimited contributions, but they have to disclose them. They may also spend unlimited amounts though they aren’t supposed to coordinate with candidates or their campaigns.

KUSA, the Denver NBC affiliate, posted a $555,000 contract with Teachers for Kennedy on May 9, but took it off the FCC site later in the week. Only two other stations have filed contracts for the group.

None of the top three Denver stations filed contracts for Frontier Fairness last week, though smaller stations in Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction did.

The campaigns for Kennedy and Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne are also buying new rounds of TV ads each week. Johnston hasn’t purchased any ad time since late April.

Kennedy posted video footage with no sound to her YouTube channel in late April. Such footage often ends up in ads by groups such as Teachers for Kennedy. It’s a way for outside groups to obtain footage of a candidate without coordinating with the campaign. 

On the Republican side, Build Colorado’s Future is airing ads supporting Republican businessman Doug Robinson. That group is funded by several oil and gas interests, as well as Robinson’s uncle, former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The candidate hasn’t been on TV since early April.

The campaigns of GOP gubernatorial contenders Treasurer Walker Stapleton and former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez have yet to schedule TV airtime. (UPDATE: Shortly after this piece was published, a few stations filed Stapleton’s first ad buys, which begin May 30. )

And no stations have reported the spending of Better Colorado Now, a group supporting Stapleton, which has been airing ads since late April. Andy George, the group’s spokesman, wouldn’t say whether it will resume airing TV ads.

The TV ad market will go beyond the governor’s race next month, though. Democrat Phil Weiser has contracts of more than $316,000 for his race against state Rep. Joe Salazar for the nomination for attorney general.

Salazar’s campaign had only about $7,000 in cash as of May 2, compared with Weiser’s $887,000. The winner of that contest will face Republican George Brauchler, a high-profile district attorney who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooter. 

And GOP U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who had to go to federal court to get on the ballot, is airing cable ads aimed at his 5th Congressional District centered on El Paso County. He faces four other Republicans in the June 26 primary.

Also, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office has a contract with Comcast in Colorado Springs to air ads about independent voting in the primary election. We’ve asked the SOS about the ads and are awaiting a reply.

It’s the first time unaffiliated voters have been able to vote in a primary, and the Secretary of State is trying to inform voters that they may only choose the Democratic or Republican ballot, not both.

Photo by Michael Saechang For Creative Commons on Flickr.

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