Nov 3, 2022 - Business

What we know about the finances of Colorado's wealthy candidates

Illustration of a checkmark made from one hundred dollar bills

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The four candidates at the top of Colorado's ballot are among the wealthiest 1% in the state.

Why it matters: Their personal wealth is helping boost their campaigns, but in certain cases it is becoming a political liability.

Driving the news: The major party candidates for governor and U.S. Senate are offering glimpses into their personal finances that reveal they're far more financially stable than the people voting for them.

  • Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet reported a family income between $296,000 and $2.2 million, along with a net worth between $7.6 million and $30.7 million in 2021, according to an Axios analysis of his most recent disclosure form. He previously worked in the private sector.
  • Republican rival Joe O'Dea disclosed at the start of the year an annual combined income between $1.7 million and $1.8 million. His net worth is between $16.9 million and $79.4 million, records show.

What's more: In the governor's race, the two candidates released limited tax information after media requested the numbers.

  • Gov. Jared Polis reported more than $1 million in income in 2021 — the bulk from investment dividends — but also deducted $300,000-plus in losses, putting his adjusted gross income closer to $734,000, tax filings reviewed by Axios show.
  • GOP challenger Heidi Ganahl disclosed gross income of $1.2 million in 2021, but didn't reveal the source. Her husband owns a chain of barbecue restaurants and she sold Camp Bow Bow, a dog day-care business she owned until 2014 for an undisclosed sum.

By the numbers: Polis is using his wealth to self-fund his 2022 campaign, shelling out $12.6 million so far, the Colorado Sun reports. Ganahl put $1.9 million into her coffers.

  • In the Senate contest, O'Dea loaned his campaign $2 million and donated another $660,000, FEC records show. Bennet has not put any money into his races historically, but he still has $375,000 in outstanding loans he made to fund his first race in 2010.

Between the lines: Polis and Ganahl pledged to release their tax returns but never did. Polis issued one year of tax information and Ganahl released three years — but only Form 1040 cover pages that offer scant details about their finances.

  • Polis paid a 11.8% tax rate, compared with 17.5% for Ganahl. Both are well below their tax brackets.

Flashback: Leaked documents showed Polis avoided paying federal income taxes from 2013 to 2015, even as his wealth reached an estimated $306 million in 2017 when he was ranked the third-wealthiest member in the U.S. House.

Of note: Neither Bennet nor O'Dea released tax documents for 2021. (Bennet did issue eight years' worth when he ran for president in 2019, but none ahead of this campaign.)

The intrigue: Bennet's wealth is a Republican attack point in the 2022 campaign, with the GOP blasting him for "shady deals" involving hedge funds.

  • His disclosure forms show he made at least $100,000 and as much as $1 million on investments related to the Puerto Rican debt crisis, the Daily Beast reported.
  • Bennet told Axios Denver on Wednesday all his assets are managed independently in a trust that he does not control. He only knows what's in his portfolio when his annual financial disclosure form is filed. "I think of it as a blind trust," he said.

Still, O'Dea's campaign says that Bennet is being hypocritical. His efforts to protect against conflicts of interest do not go far enough to meet the standard that he proposed for all members of Congress in legislation designed to ban lawmakers from trading stock.

The other side: O'Dea's finances have not escaped scrutiny. He received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan during the pandemic that totaled $2.9 million, the Colorado Sun reported. The next year he took a $663,000 salary from the business, Concrete Express. The campaign says O'Dea's company repaid the loan the following month.

  • His event venues, Mile High Station and Ironworks Events Center, received another $319,000 in PPP loans to keep employees paid. The loans were forgiven by the federal government. O'Dea reported a $25,000 salary from the business in 2021.

If elected, O'Dea has pledged to sell off assets that could be a conflict of interest and set up a qualified blind trust to manage his other assets without his knowledge.

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