Oct 7, 2021 - Politics

Big-moneyed interests dominate ballot fight in Denver's 2021 election

Top funded Denver ballot initiatives in 2021
Data: Denver Elections Division; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

The special interests behind 13 questions on Denver's November ballot collectively raised more than $2 million through September, according to an Axios Denver analysis of new finance reports.More than half the total went to two campaigns — one supporting Mayor Michael Hancock's $450 million bond package and another to fund pandemic research through a sales tax increase on marijuana backed by a dark-money group.

Why it matters: The lengthy municipal ballot and the controversial questions voters must decide on are driving the money race and creating one of the most active off-year elections in recent memory, officials said.

  • The reports, filed Tuesday, also show the big-dollar interests that are seeking to influence voters.

By the numbers: The $2.1 million pumped into the election is buoyed by the two largest contributors, neither of which list all donors.

  • Defend Colorado, a business-backed organization, put $325,000 into three committees backing different initiatives, including one designed to crack down on homeless camps. It also independently spent $215,000 on digital advertising.
  • The national advocacy group Guarding Against Pandemics, which only discloses crypto-currency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried as a donor, spent $200,000 on Ordinance 300 to increase the marijuana sales tax an additional 1.5% to raise money for pandemic research at the University of Colorado Denver.

The intrigue: Rise Denver, the committee backing the mayor's five bond measures, and its partner, Friends of the National Western Stock Show, raised the most in September.

  • Rise Denver's top donors included the Downtown Denver Partnership, Denver Center for the Performing Arts and Denver Botanic Gardens, all of which gave $25,000 a pop.
  • The stock show committee took $50,000 each from Molson Coors board chairman Pete Coors and oil and gas executive Barth Whitham; $25,000 from former University of Colorado system president Bruce Benson; and $10,000 from lobbying and law firm Brownstein Hyatt.

What's next: The reports show a total of $1.3 million remains available for a campaign blitz in the final month before the election. And more money will come as committees get more organized.

For example, the battle on Initiative 304 — a conservative-backed measure that would lower Denver's sales tax from 4.81% to 4.5% — is just starting.

  • Bill Ray, who is managing the opposition team, expects thousands more to flow into the race. "We're looking forward to having a robust campaign," he said.

Of note: The latest finance reports are the final look inside the campaigns before the election.

  • The committees will only need to disclose donations of $500 or more in the final six days before the Nov. 2 election.

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