Campaign finance

While outside groups are pouring millions into the seven races that will determine control of the Colorado state Senate, candidates are also beating the bushes for money, but any advantage they accrue is potentially blunted by spending they have no control over.    

Recent campaign finance reports show that, in races where one candidate trails another in fundraising, independent expenditure committee spending may make all the difference.

So far, the fundraising advantages, with Election Day less than three weeks away, favor Republicans in four races and Democrats in the other three.

Senate District 3: Pueblo

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Nick Hinrichsen has raised $130,869 through Oct. 17, including a $1,000 contribution on Monday from Laborers Local 720 of Denver, a construction union. 

Hinrichsen's largest donations have come from Democratic Party committees, totaling more than $21,000. A variety of unions have kicked in at least $34,600 in contributions.  

More than 30 current and former state lawmakers or their leadership funds, which are designed to get around campaign finance limits, have contributed to his campaign, most at the maximum amount of $400 each.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar, First Gentleman Marlon Reis and Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Democrat who switched from the Republican Party in August, also has contributed the maximum to the Hinrichsen campaign through his leadership fund.

Outside groups are backing Hinrichsen, but in far lesser amounts than is being spent in some of the other hotly-contested Senate races. The Democrats' main independent expenditure committee backing Senate Democratic candidates, All Together Colorado, has so far spent $199,000 to back Hinrichsen.

All Together has so far spent $5.3 million on the six most contested state Senate races.

These outside groups are prohibited by law from coordinating with the candidates they support. 

Republican Stephen Varela surged ahead on the fundraising race in the past week with large cash and non-monetary contributions from the state GOP and affiliated groups. Varela has now raised $138,457, with the state Republican party and affiliates the largest contributors, at $9,440.

Other large contributions have come from the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, the state apartment association and the realtor small donor committee, at $5,350 each; Coloradans for Colorado, a Republican-leaning small donor committee, at $4,500; and, the homebuilders' small donor committee Homes for All Coloradoans, at $4,000. 

Varela also has taken contributions from several insurance companies, former CU President Bruce Benson, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Joe O'Dea, Richmond Homes CEO Larry Mizel, Peter Coors, and at least a half-dozen current and former GOP state lawmakers and/or their leadership funds.

Independent expenditure committees are spending more to back Varela than Hinrichsen. The Senate Majority Fund, the main spending group for Senate Republican candidates, has so far spent $6.4 million on six state Senate races, the most by any, with more than $826,000 in Senate District 3. 

Senate District 8: Northwest and north central mountains

Democratic state Rep. Dylan Roberts of Eagle decided to forego his last two terms in the state House in favor of a Senate bid for an open seat in Senate District 8, which runs from Gilpin and Clear Creek counties on the east to Moffat County, on the Wyoming and Utah borders. 

Roberts has a commanding lead in fundraising over his Republican opponent, businessman Matt Solomon, also of Eagle. Roberts has raised $303,293 through Oct. 12 to Solomon's $144,474, which includes $25,000 from Solomon in loans.

Roberts' largest contributors include the Apartment Association of Metro Denver and the Colorado Medical Society, at $5,350 each; just under $4,500 from the state Democratic Party and county Democratic groups; contributions from a variety of union groups, including the state teachers' unions, the state employee union; and, from at least two dozen current and former Democratic lawmakers and/or their leadership funds. Bennet also contributed to Roberts' campaign.

On Solomon's side, more than $12,000 from the state Republican party and county GOP groups. Individual contributors include Benson, Coors, Mizel and O'Dea, as well as at least nine current and former Republican state lawmakers and/or their leadership funds.

Outside groups are spending heavily on both sides, with a slight edge for Solomon with under three weeks to go in the campaign.

Advantage: Roberts

Senate District 11 Southeastern Colorado Springs

Republicans must hold this southeastern Colorado Springs district if they have any chance of taking control of the state Senate. Technically, the district has no incumbent as Republican Sen. Dennis Hisey, who is facing questions over his residency, moved into the district late last year.

Fundraising by the candidates is neck and neck. Through Oct. 12, Hisey has raised $141,886 to $141,371 for Democratic Rep. Tony Exum, Sr., a difference of just over $600.

Hisey's biggest donations come from the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, the state apartment association and the realtors' group, at $5,350 each; and the homebuilders' association ($3,000). Hisey has not received any donations from the state GOP and only about $1,400 from area county GOP groups.

Individual contributors include Coors, Benson, Mizel, O'Dea, and a handful of current and former lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as well as their leadership funds.

Exum has contributed $4,000 of his own money to his campaign. His largest contributors include the state Democratic Party, at $10,000, and more than $36,000 from unions, including the state teachers' union, state employees union and firefighters.

Among his individual contributors: Gov. Jared Polis, Reis, Bennet and two dozen current and former lawmakers and their leadership funds.

The Senate Majority Fund has spent more than $1.1 million to back Hisey. All Together has spent just over $500,000 on Exum.

Advantage: Hisey

Senate District 15 Western Larimer and Western Boulder counties

The only contest with an incumbent senator who was elected to the seat in 2018, the independent redistricting commission rated Senate District 15 as dead even. It's also the only district in the state out of 100 General Assembly seats that the commission rated as no advantage for either major political party.

Outside groups are not a major factor in the race between incumbent Sen. Rob Woodward and Democratic challenger Janice Marchman.

That leaves the fundraising and messaging to the candidates, and in this contest, Woodward has raised considerably more than his challenger.

Woodward has taken in $270,998 to Marchman's $158,543, which includes a $500 loan.

Woodward began raising his re-election campaign war chest early on. He had $100,000 in his account before 2022 even started.

He's taken in nearly $18,000 from Republican party groups, including $15,000 from the Larimer County GOP. The apartment and realtor groups also have given the max to Woodward. 

Individual donors include O'Dea, Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl, Mizel, and a half-dozen contributions from current and former lawmakers and/or leadership funds.

Marchman's support has come from the state Democratic party to the tune of $10,000, and more than a dozen unions, primarily teachers. Marchman is former member of the Thompson School Board.

Individual contributors include Polis, Reis, Bennet and 18 current and former Democratic lawmakers and their leadership funds.

Advantage: Woodward

Senate District 20 Northwest Jefferson County

An open seat, the SD 20 race is one of the contests where millions are being spent by outside groups and the fundraising battle clearly belongs to the Republican challenger, businessman Tim Walsh.

He has loaned his campaign almost $950,000, far and away the record for a seat in the General Assembly, according to TRACER records. With less than three weeks left, Walsh has spent all but $37,256 of his million dollar war chest.

Democratic Rep. Lisa Cutter of Littleton has raised $211,167 to Walsh's $151,643 in donations, aside from his $949,6500 in loans. 

Cutter has contributed more than $11,000 to her campaign, but she's also received large contributions from the state Democratic party and county Democratic groups. Labor and teacher unions also come in as top donors to Cutter's campaign. At least 34 current and former Democratic lawmakers and their leadership funds have rallied to Cutter's side, along with contributions from Bennet, Polis and Reis.

On Walsh's side, the same donors giving maximum amounts as other Republican candidates. Those include the apartment and realtor groups at $5,350 each, small donations from Republican groups, including $1,000 from the state party. Benson, Coors, Mizel, and O'Dea insurance companies and a half-dozen current and former lawmakers and leadership funds also chipped in.

Soft money from Democratic-aligned independent expenditure committees are attempting to even the money battle.

All Together has spent almost $1.4 million to back Cutter or oppose Walsh. The Senate Majority Fund has spent $1.1 million as of Oct. 13 to back Walsh.

Advantage: Walsh

Senate District 24 Northwestern Adams County

An open seat in the Adams County communities of Thornton and Federal Heights, the contest is between Democratic Rep. Kyle Mullica, who faced questions about his residency, and Adams 12 board member and Republican Courtney Potter.

Mullica has so far swamped Potter in the fundraising contest, raising $220,332 to Potter's $58,660.

In contrast to their support primarily for Republican candidates, the three apartment and realtor groups are backing Mullica, to the tune of $5,350 each. The state Democratic party has kicked in $11,000, and Mullica also has support from trade and teacher unions and a variety of small donor committees affiliated with the medical profession, no surprise since Mullica is a registered nurse.

Mullica also got more donations from fellow lawmakers, past and present, than any other candidate, with 40. Individual contributors also included Bennet, Polis and Reis. 

Potter's largest donors include the Lincoln Club, which has contributed to every Republican candidate in the most contested Senate races, the Republican state party, as well as Benson, Mizel, and Coors, and fellow Senate candidate Walsh.

Soft money also favors Mullica. All Together Colorado has spent $1.2 million on his side, while the Senate Majority Fund has spent more than $915,000 to support Potter.

Advantage: Mullica

Senate District 27 Southern Arapahoe County

The last of the seven most hotly contested Senate seats also lacks an incumbent. 

Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial is facing Republican businessman Tom Kim, also of Centennial.

Fundraising by the candidates is almost even, but it's late outside money that is getting the attention, with a $1 million donation earlier this week from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the independent expenditure committee Everytown for Gun Safety, which has said it intends to support several Democratic candidates, including Sullivan.

Sullivan has raised $182,242 through Oct. 12 but still has more than $102,000 left with less than three weeks to go in the campaign.

Kim has raised $173,855 in cash and in-kind contributions but has spent down to his last $1,560 as of Oct. 12.

Sullivan's largest donations have come from the state Democratic party and a long list of trade and teacher unions. Sullivan is a former union rep for postal workers.

He's also received maximum donations from Bennet, Polis and Reis and contributions from about 30 current and former lawmakers and their leadership funds.

Kim has been his campaign's largest donor, primarily for in-kind contributions totaling more than $36,000. The apartment and realtor groups maxxed out their contributions at $5,350 each.

Individual donors include people affiliated with Renewable Water Resources, the Douglas County company attempting to buy water from the San Luis Valley. Kim got $400 donations from RWR principals John Kim (no relation) Sean Tonner and former Gov. Bill Owens. Kim also got $400 contributions from Mizel, and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman.

All Together Colorado has spent $1.17 million to support Sullivan through Oct. 14. The Senate Majority Fund has so far spent $1.23 million for Kim. 

Everytown for Gun Safety has received $1.5 million in donations in the past several weeks but their IEC has not yet reported how they will spend it, other than to identify Sullivan as someone they will support, along with Polis and the other major statewide offices.

Advantage: Sullivan

Editor's note: A previous version noted that Hisey had taken contributions that appeared to exceed the standard individual limit; however, he was allowed to do so because he agreed to voluntary spending limits but his opponent did not. As a result is a candidate is allowed to accept twice the individual contribution limit.