May 1, 2024 - News

Denver's public campaign financing system needs more staff

Illustration of a voting booth surrounded by crumpled hundred-dollar bills.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Denver's taxpayer-funded campaign finance system worked as intended last year, city officials said Tuesday, but staffing the program is a concern.

The big picture: The Fair Elections Fund provided $7.7 million to qualifying candidates last year, according to a report from the Clerk and Recorder's office released in March. Most candidates (81%) who made last year's ballot participated.

  • The money was raised from 21,520 donations by 19,275 unique donors, with an average donation of $100.26.

Threat level: City Clerk and Recorder Paul D. López, the city's chief election official, and Deputy City Clerk Andy Szekeres said more staff is needed to ensure the finance system is properly tracked and enforced.

  • The program currently has two staff members, Clerk and Recorder spokesperson Mikayla Ortega tells us.

Between the lines: The office reviewed all receipts and invoices related to expenses, a laborious task Szekeres says is unique to Denver's program. Similar ones around the country often only audit a percentage of campaign spending.

  • It's unclear how many more staff members the office needs; it will largely depend on the number of candidates for the 2027 election, Ortega tells us.

The intrigue: 73% of candidates surveyed said the program influenced their decision to run for office — a major driving force behind the program's creation, since supporters claimed it would help level the playing field.

Context: Participating candidates are required to limit campaign donation amounts to receive the matching money, with donations of $50 or less matched at an up to 9 to 1 ratio.

Caveat: Nearly $2 million was spent by people who had no chance of winning their respective races, including nine running for mayoral in last year's crowded field.

  • Mayor Mike Johnston received $766,924 from the program during his campaign, according to the Clerk and Recorder's office.

What's next: López says his office is working on a bill to improve campaign finance regulation enforcement and transparency.


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