Jan 23, 2023 - News

Top candidates for Denver mayor emerge in new fundraising reports

Reproduced from Denver Elections Division; Chart: Axios Visuals

The money race is revealing the top contenders for Denver mayor, even though influential donors appear to be hedging their bets by supporting more than one candidate.

Driving the news: Three mayoral candidates — Andy Rougeot, Kelly Brough and Leslie Herod — stand atop the crowded race after strong fundraising in 2022. All enter the election year with more than $200,000 in the bank.

  • The second tier — Mike Johnston, Debbie Ortega and Thomas Wolf — started 2023 with more than $100,000 in campaign cash.
  • Five other prominent contenders are well behind the pack.

Why it matters: Fundraising is a strong indicator of a candidate's level of support and provides the money needed to organize a winning campaign.

By the numbers: So far, candidates for mayor raised or loaned their campaigns a collective $2.3 million, according to an Axios Denver analysis of campaign reports filed by Friday's deadline.

  • The bulk of it — 80% — came from Denver donors, and 92% came from in-state contributors.

Between the lines: The new Fair Elections Fund is changing the electoral landscape with the addition of taxpayer-funded matching contributions. Candidates that voluntarily cap donations at $500 — half the legal limit — can receive matching dollars at a ratio of 9 to 1 on contributions of $50 or less.

  • For three longer-shot candidates — Wolf, an investment banker; environmental activist Ean Tafoya; and former gang member and activist Terrance Roberts — public campaign dollars amounted to 70% or more of their campaign cash.

Zoom in: The crowded race and small-dollar donations are making it easier for donors to spread their allegiances to multiple candidates. This is particularly true among big name Democrats and business leaders.

  • Kenneth Monfort, a developer whose family owns the Colorado Rockies, gave $500 to Brough, Herod and Alex Valdez, a state lawmaker who has since exited the race.
  • Andra Zeppelin sent $500 to Brough, Herod and Ortega. Her husband, Kyle Zeppelin, CEO of the family's development firm, gave $500 to Ortega.
  • Prominent Democratic strategist Mike Stratton donated $500 to Ortega, $300 to Valdez and $300 to Johnston.
  • Multiple legislative lobbyists gave money to Herod, Valdez and Chris Hansen, all state lawmakers, as well as Brough, the former head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

What they're saying: "I think each one of them has different characteristics that offer the city different kinds of leadership," says lobbyist Travis Berry, who gave to four candidates. "I'm excited good people are willing to do this because it's a hard job."

The intrigue: A number of other highlights are evident in the new campaign finance numbers.

  • Rougeot, a Republican, is self-funding, loaning his campaign $500,000 to keep relevant in a city that favors Democrats.
  • Former Denver Mayor Federico Pena and his wife, Cindy, gave $500 to Ortega, who is a current City Council member.
  • Brough raised the most money on her own, while Herod has received the largest sum of public campaign funding, at $158,000.
  • Kwame Spearman, CEO of the Tattered Cover bookstore, entered the race in January, after the filing period ended.
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