Colo. ballot measures beating out candidates in campaign ad spending

September 3, 2014

Photo: Racino screenshotDemocratic Gov. John Hickenlooper continues to outraise GOP opponent Bob Beauprez, but an independent committee is spending at least $5 million to support the Republican.

The Republican Governor’s Association donated $5 million to its Colorado independent expenditure committee. That committee is running at least $1.2 million in ads criticizing Hickenlooper.

A Democratic group, Making Colorado Great, has reserved more than $2 million in advertising time, but reported only $150,000 in donations and no spending.

But the really big money – nearly $29 million – is going into a battle over casino gambling.

Tuesday’s fundraising deadline for Colorado candidates and committees was the first time the RGA and Making Colorado Great had to report their contributions and spending. Starting this month, candidates and committees must report their finances every two weeks until Election Day.

The really big bucks

Amendment 68 would allow horse racing tracks to also offer casino gambling, and it’s clearly a high-stakes measure.

Casinos in Colorado’s three historic gambling towns have put $16 million into the issue committee Don’t Turn Racetracks into Casino to oppose Amendment 68. They say the deal is aimed at bailing out a Rhode Island-based casino company that owns Mile High USA Inc.

The group supporting the initiative, Coloradans for Better Schools, has raised $12.7 million, all from Mile High. That’s the owner of the Arapahoe Park horse racing facility they hope to turn into a casino. They say gambling would raise up to $100 million a year for Colorado schools.

Both groups are spending heavily on TV and other forms of advertising.

Meanwhile, initiatives aimed at regulating fracking were pulled from the ballot, but they still cost supporters and opponents plenty.

Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence raised more than $11 million, mostly from oil and gas companies, and spent almost $9.5 million to oppose the initiatives.

Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy raised and spent $2.2 million, with Democratic Rep. Jared Polis donating $770,000 to the group in August.

The candidates

Hickenlooper has raised more than $4 million and spent more than $3 million, while Beauprez has raised less than $1 million.

But Beauprez, a former banker and congressman who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006, spent $527,000 of his own money to win the four-way Republican June primary.

Two other Democratic candidates also are outraising their Republican rivals. Don Quick is outpacing Cynthia Coffman in the open seat for attorney general, and Joe Neguse is outraising Wayne Williams in the open race for secretary of state.

GOP Treasurer Walker Stapleton is outraising his Democratic opponent Betsy Markey, as well as all other statewide candidates except Beauprez and Hickenlooper.  

Here’s a look at August fundraising and the cash candidates for statewide office had in the bank on Aug. 27:

Here’s the total raised and spent by candidates through Aug. 27:

And here’s a table of statewide candidate fundraising details:

The “super PACS”

The RGA formed an independent expenditure committee in Colorado, while Making Colorado Great is a 527.

Both 527s and state-level independent expenditure committees are the equivalent of federal super PACs. They may take unlimited donations but may not coordinate political activity such as advertising with candidates or political parties.

The RGA’s Colorado independent expenditure committee received $5 million from the national RGA’s 527 group, a nonprofit that must report its contributions quarterly to the IRS but not to the Federal Election Commission.

The nation RGA’s two largest donors this year, giving $2.5 million each, are billionaire businessman David Koch, who with his brother helped found Americans for Prosperity and related political groups, and Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino owner who spent millions in the 2012 GOP primaries.

Ultra Resources, an Englewood-based oil and gas company, donated $100,000. Other Colorado donors to the RGA include The Anschutz Corp., Newmont Mining Corp., Jeffrey Coors and Liberty Media; all gave $25,000.

Making Colorado Great lists $100,000 in donations from New York nonprofit Education Reform Now Advocacy and $50,000 from United Association Political Issues, a trade union PAC.

Michael Huttner, spokesman for the group, said the group reserved the time early and will pay for the ads as they get closer to the air dates.