PACs backing Polis jump into the TV air war in CO’s race for governor as campaigns complain about negativity

Jared Polis

The super PAC troops are coming to the defense of Boulder Congressman Jared Polis in the Democratic primary for governor this week, just as ballots hit mailboxes and ads by PACs become a contentious issue in the race.

Some of the ads – including one from Polis himself – respond to a super PAC ad supporting former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy. That pro-Kennedy ad criticizes Polis for things he said about a state voucher bill nearly 15 years ago.

This week, the Polis campaign is airing an ad featuring teachers criticizing “Cary Kennedy’s false attacks against Jared Polis.” The ad ends with three different teachers saying, “Cary said she will run a clean campaign … But she broke her word … What else will she break?” 

The Kennedy campaign called it an attack, and said in a statement, “Unlike Cary Kennedy, when asked directly if he supported vouchers at the 9NEWS debate Polis refused to say no and said it’s every district’s right to do what it wants.” Polis campaign spokeswoman Mara Sheldon said he was “simply saying what is in the Colorado constitution” and that he has consistently voted against vouchers while in Congress. 

Today, Bold Colorado, a super PAC supporting Polis that formed in January, is set to air TV ads aimed at Kennedy.

The Bold Colorado ad, titled “Really,” attacks Kennedy for “Breaking her pledge” not to run a negative campaign. “Her allies are attacking her opponents and running a negative campaign,” the ad’s narrator says. “Not just negative but dishonest,” it goes on, citing TV truth checks.

KUSA 9News, the NBC affiliate in Denver, filed a contract on Wednesday for 47 ads through June 15 at a cost of more than $64,000, according to records filed with the Federal Communications Commission. The group bought 16 ads for $16,250 on KTVD, and KMGH also filed a notice that the group is advertising on the Denver ABC affiliate. But stations aren’t required to file TV contracts by outside spending groups if they only deal with state-level issues.

Bold Colorado recently received $175,000 from the federal Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. That group is a federal political action committee. Bold Colorado spent nearly $69,000 on polling recently.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Sierra Club said Wednesday it will spend $600,000 on ads supporting Polis, who is self-funding his candidacy and has already spent more than $10.5 million on his bid. He has voluntarily capped donations at $100.

Ironically, the Sierra Club TV ad touts Polis’ refusal to take special interest money in his campaign. The Sierra Club’s independent spending committee reported Monday being more than $69,000 in the hole after spending more than $71,000 last week on a mailer supporting Polis. So where did the new money come from? Jim Alexee, director of the Colorado Sierra Club, said it’s money from the national Sierra Club’s “members and supporters.”

The national Sierra Club, an environmental group, is a nonprofit “social welfare” group that doesn’t have to identify its donors. So, for now, the money for the ad campaign is what’s generally known as “dark money,” meaning the public doesn’t know who paid for it.

The TV ads, which tout Polis’s plan to get Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, will run through the June 26 primary, the group said in a news release. There’s also an accompanying website supporting Polis.

The role of these independent spending groups has come into sharp focus in the days leading up to the primary.

The super PAC Teachers for Kennedy, largely funded by teachers unions and Emily’s List, has sent mailers attacking Polis and aired TV ads contrasting Kennedy with Polis and former State Sen. Mike Johnston. A KDVR fact-check of the TV ad found its claims that “Jared Polis supported a voucher program to take money out of public schools” and “Johnston supported anti-teacher and conservative education efforts” misleading.

Polis and Johnston have called on Kennedy to denounce the PAC ads since they all signed a clean campaign pledge. Both Kenney and Polis have complained about each other to the state Democratic Party about negative campaign tactics, given they signed the pledge.

In a recent televised debate, Polis referred to Teachers for Kennedy as “Cary Kennedy’s super PAC;” Johnston’s campaign has said the same. Polis and Johnston both have super PACs supporting them.

Candidates, their campaigns and super PACs are not supposed to coordinate. But they use similar imagery and slogans. Kennedy and Johnston both offer soundless video clips on their respective campaign websites. The Teachers for Kennedy PAC uses the footage in one of its ads. Polis has aired a TV commercial titled “Bold,” a slogan which is also included in the title of the Sierra Club ad.

On Wednesday, a 9News fact-check pointed out that Kennedy could ask Teachers for Kennedy to stop the negative ads without violating campaign finance laws.

In a jab at the way her rival has responded to the PAC supporting her, Kennedy also says this about Polis on her campaign’s website : “Polis feels teachers don’t deserve a voice in this election, and is spending millions of his own money to drown out their voices.”

Related: The Colorado PAC wars finally dispense with this whole ‘independent’ thing anyway

The super PAC Frontier Fairness (that’s an early campaign slogan for Johnston) is airing ads and sending mailers supporting Johnston. It is supported by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, among others, and so far has not gone negative in its advertising. Johnston has said if the PAC released a negative ad he would ask the group to take it down.

Democratic Lt. Gov Donna Lynne, also running for governor, has been on the sidelines of the PAC wars, and during a recent debate styled herself as  “adult in the room” amidst the bickering.

Four Republicans also are battling in the June 26 primary, with support and opposition from various PACs.

Corey Hutchins contributed to this report. Photo by Corey Hutchins. 


  1. “So where did the new money come from? Jim Alexee, director of the Colorado Sierra Club, said it’s money from the national Sierra Club’s “members and supporters.”

    I’m wondering if any of those members and supporters are named Polis. Too Cynical?

  2. Cynical !?! Though I am a big Sierra Club supporter…. I was wondering the same thing. As we know by what’s happening in Washington, it will come down to $$$$$

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