In the battle to flip the state Senate from red to blue, Democratic candidates are outraising their Republican rivals by nearly three to one, according to the latest campaign finance statements.
Republicans hold the Senate by just one seat and should Democrats prevail, it is likely the party would control the statehouse since Dems currently have a seven-seat majority in the House.
That said, when accounting for outside groups that are kicking in money for TV ads and mailers on behalf of these candidates, both parties are running practically neck-and-neck in the race to raise cash.
Democratic candidates have raised more than $2.1 million so far this year; Republicans have raised a little more than $787,000, according to the Secretary of State’s latest campaign finance reports. Independent expenditure committees and 527s backing Democrats have raised another $2.1 million while similar groups backing Republicans have raised more than $3 million.
Both 527s and IECs are prohibited from coordinating with campaigns. 527s have the added requirement that they cannot specifically ask the electorate to vote for or against certain candidates. But unlike candidate committees, which have more stringent contribution limits and disclosure rules, 527s and IECs can accept virtually unlimited contributions and their disclosure rules have more loopholes.
These outside groups have their sights on about five vulnerable seats in the Senate and are positioned to begin spending big on mailers and television ads with the election about 60 days away. In the past month, IECs have already spent nearly a half million dollars on ads and mailers on behalf of candidates running in toss-up districts.
Related: The balance of power in the Colorado state legislature is up for grabs, and the gloves are off
In the meantime, the oil and gas industry is throwing most of its weight behind Republicans, who are much more likely to support its interests in the state legislature. Last session, Republicans defeated a number of laws proposed by Democrats that would have regulated the industry. One would have required state regulators to consider public health and safety when issuing drilling permits. Another would have increased the 1,000-foot setback from school buildings to school property boundaries. Yet another would have required state regulators to give local governments maps of natural gas flowlines. And another would have increased spill and leak incident reporting requirements. All were voted down in Republican-controlled committees.
Oil and gas companies are spending most of their money this election cycle working to defeat Initiative 97, a ballot measure that would increase setbacks from 500 feet to 2,500 feet.
The latest round of campaign finance reports filed Tuesday sheds light on how key industries are weighing in this election cycle. In addition to oil and gas, other top donors include trade groups representing insurers and physicians and environmental advocacy groups.
Here’s what we know so far this election cycle about how big spenders are working to tip the balance of power in the state legislature.
Oil and gas favoring Rs, environmental groups favor Dems
Colorado oil and gas companies are giving most of their money to independent expenditures committees that buy TV ads and send out mailers in support of Republican candidates.
Noble Energy Inc., a Houston, Texas-based oil and gas company, gave $200,000 to the 527 arm of the Senate Majority Fund, which is also an independent expenditure committee supporting Republicans for the Senate. They also donated $10,000 to Values First Colorado, a 527 working to elect Republicans in the House. Denver-based Extraction Oil & Gas gave $75,000 to the 527 arm of the Senate Majority Fund and only $1,000 to IEC arm of Coloradans for Fairness, which is also a 527 working to elect Democrats to the Senate.
Anadarko, the Woodlands, Texas-based oil and gas company gave $100,000 to the Senate Majority Fund and another $10,000 to Values First Colorado and a total of $25,000 to Our Colorado Values and Coloradans for Fairness, which has both a 527 and IEC that support Democrats.
ExxonMobil gave $55,000 to the two groups backing Republicans, the Senate Majority Fund and Values First Colorado.
Major oil and gas companies have so far made no direct contributions to candidates for running governor, Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Democratic Congressman Jared Polis. They have instead been spending big opposing Initiative 97. If approved by voters in November, the initiative would require that oil and gas rigs be placed no closer than 2,500 feet from homes and vulnerable areas, such as schools — up from the current 500-foot minimum. The measure was approved by the Secretary of State on Aug. 29 after a group backing the measure, Colorado Rising, submitted over 172,000 petition signatures.
Since January, oil and gas companies have donated more than $21 million to Protect Colorado, a group trying to defeat the ballot measure. The group is spending money on political ads like this one:
Other top donors to the Senate Majority Fund include Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group representing the pharmaceutical industry, and the Colorado Apartment Association, a group mostly representing landlords.
Some of the top donors to Democratic political expenditure committees include Environment America, a Denver-based environmental group, and the Green Advocacy Fund, an organization based in Palo Alto, California. These groups were donating to Coloradans for Fairness. Coloradans for Fairness raked in the most money from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a redistricting reform organization.
Who these IECs and 527s support
The independent expenditure committee for the Senate Majority Fund only spent money on three key Senate races over the last month.
This includes the seat held currently by Sen. Tim Neville, a Republican from Littleton; Senator Beth Martinez Humenik, a Republican from Thornton; and Christine Jensen, a mortgage business manager from Wheat Ridge seeking to replace Sen. Cheri Jahn, a term-limited Wheat Ridge Democrat-turned-Independent.
Senate Majority Fund spent over $304,000 on mailers, door hangers, and ads for these races. Neville received the most spending on his behalf — over $110,000 — during the past month. He won his seat in 2014 by a relatively thin margin in a district where Republicans barely outnumber Democrats. Also, four in ten registered voters are unaffiliated. In what is expected to be a competitive reelection bid, Neville is facing off with Tammy Story, who comes from a military family and has spent the last 20 years volunteering as an advocate for public schools.
Coloradans for Fairness is spending big to shepherd Story to the statehouse. It spent $52,000 this past month on supportive mailers and ads in the Senate district that stretches from the Kenosha Mountains in the south to the Indian Peaks in the north, passing through west Denver suburbs along the way.
Coloradans for Fairness in all spent $243,000 in the past month on photography, consulting, mailers, and opposition and support ads on behalf of the so-called “fab five” candidates — all of whom are women.
This includes Faith Winter, a Democrat from Westminster running to unseat Beth Martinez Humenik; Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail who is running for reelection against Olen Lund, a former Delta County commissioner and conservative Republican; Story, who’s running to unseat Neville; Brittany Pettersen, who’s running against Republican Tony Sanchez for the seat of former Sen. Andrew Kerr, who’s term-limited; and Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge, who’s running against Jenson. It also spent $28,000 on behalf of Rep. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat running against small business owner Patrick McIntire for Mike Merrifield’s seat. The Democrat from Colorado Springs is term-limited.
Our Colorado Values, an IEC and 527, spent more than $17,000 on consulting for Rochelle Galindo, a 28-year-old from Greeley who would be the first lesbian, Latinx millennial to represent Weld County’s House District 50, opened up by term-limited Democratic Rep. Dave Young. She’s facing off against U.S. Army veteran Michael A. Thuener.
Top donors to Our Colorado Values include Education Reform Now Advocacy, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Pharma Colorado Action Fund.
Values First Colorado, which helps elect Republicans in the House, spent all its money on consulting, travel and marketing. Its top donors include Extraction Oil and Gas, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and ExxonMobil.
Insurance group and unions top donors, favoring Dems
The largest donor to individual candidates running in the House and Senate is COPIC, a medical insurance and financial services group, spending over $95,000. The group is investing heavily in Republican candidates in the Senate and supporting both parties in the House. The Colorado Medical Society, which represents physicians, is supporting both parties in the Senate, donating over $14,000 split among Democrats and Republicans, though favoring Democrats in the House, where it spent over $21,000.
The second-largest donor is the Colorado Democratic Party, spending nearly $91,000 on House and Senate races. This includes $50,000 on several candidates aiming to take competitive seats in the Senate and nearly $41,000 in the House.
The Colorado Education Association’s public education committee donated more than $54,000 to Democrats in the House and Senate. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Colorado State Conference of Electrical Workers donated more than $54,000 to Democrats.
Reports will now be released every two weeks until election day on November 6.
The Colorado Independent wants to track how money is being spent in legislative races this election cycle. If you received any political ads in the mail, please share with us by sending pictures to John@coloradoindependent.com.