Jul 21, 2023 - News

Johnston raises $700K from lobbyists and corporations for inauguration party

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, center, leaves his office at the Denver City and County Building on Tuesday. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Mike Johnston relied on wealthy donors to propel his win in the Denver mayor's race β€” and now he's leaning on them to pay the tab for his celebration party.

Driving the news: The new mayor's allies raised about $700,000 from nearly 80 corporations, developers, lobbyists and deep-pocketed donors for his inaugural party, according to a donor list obtained by Axios Denver.

  • No tax dollars were directly spent on the party, but some of the donors do receive public money.

Why it matters: The sponsors are big names that receive lucrative taxpayer-funded contracts or conduct business with the city.

By the numbers: Amazon and United Airlines, the top two donors to Denver Vibes, a nonprofit organized to host the free party at Union Station, contributed $50,000 each.

  • Five more entities gave $25,000, including Comcast, which just inked a five-year deal as the city's television partner.
  • A handful of companies that gave big-dollar contributions are registered lobbyists or clients including United, Airbnb, tobacco giant Altria, Wall Kane Consulting and Crown Castle.

What he's saying: On his first full day in office Tuesday, Johnston deflected questions from reporters about how the donations may influence his decisions, but said he would also ask them to contribute money to his plan to address homelessness, his top priority.

Of note: The nonprofit voluntarily disclosed its donors to Axios Denver, but the list appears incomplete.

  • AEG Presents, the entertainment company owned by billionaire and conservative donor Phil Anschutz, contributed services but did not disclose their cost.
  • At least two sponsors who were listed on the inauguration's program β€” hotel group Sage Hospitality and former energy executive and nonprofit leader David Younggren and his wife, Debbie β€” are not detailed in the records provided by Johnston's inaugural committee.

The intrigue: Many of the inaugural party donors, such as the Associated General Contractors and National Association of Realtors supported Johnston's campaign rival, Kelly Brough.

  • In explaining the about-face, contractors president Michael Gifford told 9News that many of the association's members "live and work in Denver and we are excited about the campaign to address safety, homelessness, and affordable housing to improve Denver for all."

Axios Denver's Esteban L. Hernandez contributed to this report.


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