Outside group backing Democratic state Senate candidates spends millions week before ballots drop

Democratic candidates vying for battleground seats in the upper chamber continue to raise more than their Republican rivals

Under the gold dome inside the Colorado Capitol. (Photo by John Herrick)

An outside group spent millions supporting Democratic candidates in battleground state Senate seats a week before ballots went out. 

Coloradans for Fairness, an independent expenditure committee, spent nearly $3 million in the past week on television ads and mailers related to seven competitive Senate seats that could determine the balance of power under the Gold Dome.

This November, voters in suburban swing districts will play a key role in deciding whether Republicans maintain their one-seat majority in the state Senate. Democratic Congressman Jared Polis is polling ahead of his Republican rival, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, in a bid for the governor’s mansion, and the House is firmly under the control of Democrats. With control of the Senate up for grabs, voters disenchanted with President Donald Trump and his party could earn Democrats a trifecta after the midterms. Democrats have not controlled both the Legislature and governor’s office since the 2014 red wave.

So far this election cycle, IECs have spent about $7 million on key Senate seats. Of this amount, about $4 million has supported Democratic candidates and $3 million Republican contenders.

Independent expenditure committees have virtually no limits on how much money they can accept or spend.

According to the Secretary of State’s latest campaign finance reports updated Tuesday, the race between the Democratic Rep. Faith Winter of Westminster and Republican Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik of Thornton is drawing the most outside cash. Groups have spent about $2 million so far this year on the suburban seat north of Denver, Senate District 24, sending out mailers and flooding the airways and television screens with ads.

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Coloradans for Fairness is the main group backing Democrats in the Senate. Groups backing Republicans include the Senate Majority Fund, the Business Opportunity Fund, Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, and Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification. 

There are also dark money groups that do not have to disclose donors to the Secretary of State paying for ads on behalf of candidates. These nonprofits include the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, which backs Republicans mostly by buying TV ads, and Colorado Values Project, which backs Democrats.

The Koch brothers-backed group Americans for Prosperity is also buying ads for Senate Republican candidates, including Olen Lund, a former Delta County commissioner from Paonia aiming to unseat Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan from Vail, in Senate District 5; Christine Jensen, a mortgage banker from Arvada running against Democratic Rep. Jessie Danielson from Wheat Ridge for an open seat in Senate District 20; and Sen. Tim Neville, who is facing a challenge from Tammy Story, a Democratic education reformer from Conifer who helped with the Jefferson County School Board recall elections in 2015, for Senate District 16. 

Related: Dems vying for statehouse seats outraise Republicans, but outside groups poised to spend big for GOP

Meanwhile, Democratic candidates running for key Senate seats have kept their own fundraising advantage, on average outraising the Republican rivals more than two to one.

The top performer is Story, who’s seeking to topple Neville, a conservative icon in the state Senate. Story’s top donor is Leadership for Educational Equity, a nonprofit education reform group, which donated $20,000 to her campaign. She also has the support of teachers’ and other unions.

The final campaign finance reporting deadline before the election on Nov. 6 is Oct. 29.