The amount of money being spent on the school board recalls in Jefferson County is staggering. The efforts to oust, or keep, conservative board members John Newkirk, Julie Williams, and Ken Witt have seen a massive influx of cash.
How massive? It’s possible that more than $1 million could be spent on three school board recall elections in Jefferson County.
But only about $422,000 of that money can be tracked through the Colorado Secretary of State’s reporting system.
That’s because two anti-recall groups, Americans For Prosperity and Colorado Independent Action, are nonprofits that don’t have to report their spending on their donors. And they’re likely spending more than recall supporters.
The effort to oust conservative board members John Newkirk, Julie Williams, and Ken Witt is prompted by parents and teachers upset about spending in the district, contentious meetings and more.
And not all the donors for the JeffCo United groups promoting the recall can be traced.
Here’s how it breaks down.
The recall effort started in late June with Jeffco United For Action raising nearly $44,000 through July 9. Then, Jeffco United, a nonprofit that won’t disclose its donors, started contributing, kicking in $93,000 through the end of July.
JeffCo United For Action continued raising money from other donors, including $25,000 from Robert Pew of Woody Creek, and spent about $142,000 gathering petition signatures.
JeffCo United For Action has raised nearly $256,000 total, and spent about $224,000.
Then there’s JeffCo United Forward. That group is spending money to support the slate of new school board candidates. It’s raised more than $31,000, including $15,000 from the district teachers union, and spent almost $19,000, mostly on advertising.
Here’s a look at fundraising by the three groups involved in the recalls, including one that opposes the recall:
Finally, six candidates hoping to unseat Witt, Williams and Newkirk have raised nearly $125,000 and spent more than $79,000.
Most of that money is for the slate supported by JeffCo United Forward. Their candidate Brad Rupert hopes to replace Williams, Susan Harmon hopes to replace Newkirk and Ron Mitchell hopes to replace Witt. The three challengers each received $9,000 from the Jefferson County teachers union.
Three other candidates – two challenging Witt and one challenging Newkirk have raised less than $2,700 total.
Here’s a look at the money raised and spent for those candidates:
Americans For Prosperity and Colorado Independent Action are supporting Witt, Newkirk and Williams, but in a way that doesn’t require them to disclose their spending.
That’s because their ads urge people to tell the current board members they’re doing a good job. The ads say nothing about voting for or against anyone.
Americans For Prosperity, founded by billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch, is running ads on cable TV, sending mailers, running phone banks and canvassing neighborhoods to deliver their message.
A spokeswoman for the group said they’ll spend less than $250,000 on that effort and cable TV ads supporting Douglas County school board members.
Colorado Independent Action is a nonprofit affiliated with the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank. That group is running TV ads mostly supporting Williams, but they won’t say how much their spending or who their donors are.
But Lynea Hansen, a spokeswoman for JeffCo United, said her group used an ad buyer to call stations and learned the buys totaled about $450,000.
That isn’t an accurate number, says Jon Caldara, executive director of the Independence Institute.
"I wish I had half of that," Caldara said.
Colorado Independent Action also donated $10,000 to Kids Are First JeffCo, an issue committee that reported spending a little more than $1,000 of that as of Oct. 15.
Money In Denver And DougCo
The JeffCo recall isn’t the only expensive school board election going on this fall.
In Denver, six school board candidates have raised a total of more than $230,000. Those races feature candidates backed by the teachers union versus those who aren’t.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association donated more than $80,000 to three candidates looking to defeat two incumbents and take an open seat.
On the opposite side, Education Reform Now Advocacy put $250,000 into an independent expenditure group called Raising Colorado, which is sending mailings supporting their candidates.
Here’s a look at the Denver candidate fundraising:
Meanwhile, in Douglas County, Americans for Prosperity is running cable TV ads supporting incumbents on the school board. That district set the stage for what’s happening in JeffCo, with a conservative majority taking over in 2009 and pursuing a voucher program that they’re appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But challengers in DougCo – billed as “pro-public education” candidates – are far outraising the incumbents. They’ve each raised between $15,000 and $19,000, while the three incumbents have raised less than $4,000 each.
One outside group, Douglas County Parents, is registered with the Secretary of State. But that committee doesn’t have to file a report until the day before the election.
Here’s a look at the Douglas County candidate fundraising thus far:
There's not too much time left to spend money though; elections are less than two weeks away.
Editor's Note: Jon Caldara, executive director of the Independence Institute, objected to a claim from JeffCo United in the on-air version of this piece. The story has been updated to include his objection.