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Dialing For DPS Dollars

A Breakdown Of Money Flowing into School Board Races

You know the saying. Follow the money.

The candidates running for DPS Board of Education filed their first campaign finance reports with the Colorado Secretary of State on Oct. 17. What do they reveal?

District 3 – Park Hill South Of Montview Boulevard

Carrie Olson, a DPS teacher, received $18,105 in contributions, compared to incumbent Mike Johnson’s war chest of $81,888. Olson’s major donor was the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), which gave $5,000. Johnson received major backing from Sam Gary of Sam Gary & Associates ($5,000), David Younggren of Gary Community Investments ($5,000), Pat Hamill of Oakwood Homes ($2,600), and Daniel Ritchie, former chancellor of the University of Denver ($2,000).

District 4 – Park Hill North Of Montview Boulevard

Tay Anderson reported $16,331 in contributions, including support from Denver’s first African American mayor, Wellington Webb ($1,000). Both are graduates of Manual High School.

Jennifer Bacon totaled $60,157 in contributions. She received $10,000 from the DCTA and $2,500 from Leadership for Educational Equity, Colorado, a political action committee. The latter is mostly funded by out-of-state money and aims to support current and former Teach for America teachers in new leadership roles. Bacon taught as a TFA and is currently the regional director for the Colorado branch of Leadership for Education Equity.

Rachele Espiritu, who was appointed to the Board in 2016 following Landri Taylor’s resignation, reported $73,847 in contributions. They include $5,000 from Daniel Ritchie, $5,000 from Scott Reiman of Hexagon, an investment company, and $5,000 from James Crowe of Crowe Building Products. Espiritu also accepted a contribution of $4,750 from Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-reform political action committee. Additionally, she received $2,500 from Sam Gary, $2,000 from conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz and $1,000 from David Younggren. Espiritu has stated repeatedly, including recently at a debate at East High School, that 98 percent of her donations are under $1,500. However, 47 percent of her total donations come from nine people or organizations that have donated $2,000 or more.

At-Large – Citywide

All Of Park Hill Will Vote For One Of These Candidates

Julie Bañuelos has received $12,957, with the largest chunk coming from a loan to herself. Her largest contribution is $300.

Robert Speth, who ran for an at-large position against Happy Haynes in the last election cycle and lost by a margin smaller than 1 percent, has received a total of $21,615 this year. That includes $1,500 from Public Education Committee, the teachers’ union.

Incumbent Barbara O’Brien has received by far the largest donations of all candidates, totaling $101,291. Notable donors include: Bruce Benson, president of the University of Colorado ($10,000); Developer Pat Hamill ($7,650); Daniel Ritchie ($5,000), Philip Anschutz ($5,000); Sam Gary ($5,000); and Hexagon CEO Scott Reiman ($5,000). DFER also contributed $500 directly to her campaign.

But wait, there’s more. A lot more!

The candidates will continue to raise more cash until the Nov. 7 election and more money will certainly roll in. But they will not be required to report again until after the election.

In addition to the money the campaigns are raising directly, this year we have witnessed huge amounts of what some term “dark money” directed into several of the races. The dark money comes from organizations that by law cannot coordinate directly with campaigns, but spend plenty of money promoting specific candidates.

This year an organization called “Raising Colorado” has saturated mailboxes with flyers supporting the incumbents. This group has received $300,000 from Education Reform Now, which is based in New York City and is the political action committee arm of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). As of the last filing, Raising Colorado has poured more than $226,000 into the DPS Board elections that affect Park Hill, with more than $105,000 going to support Espiritu, $82,950 for Johnson and more than $37,000 for O’Brien’s reelection bid. Raising Colorado is also supporting Angela Cobian, who is running in southwest Denver.

Students for Education Reform, from California, has supported Espiritu with close to $12,000. It paid for mailers and door-to-door canvassing, bringing in out-of-state canvassers. (The one who recently knocked on my door was from Michigan!)

Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado, funded by Stand for Children, a pro-reform organization based in Oregon, supported both O’Brien and Johnson with funds totaling more than $83,000.

Brighter Futures for Denver, supported by the Colorado Education Association and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, has paid $139,000 in support of Jennifer Bacon’s run for the board.

Every Student Succeeds, an independent expenditure committee backed mainly by teachers’ union money has supported Xochitl Gaytan, who is running against Cobian in District 2, with over $87,000 for canvassing and advertising.

Our Denver, Our Schools, a smaller independent expenditure committee, has spent $1,600 on a mailer for both Speth and Gaytan. Scott Gilpin, who heads ODOS, says that approximately $10,000 will be spent in support of their endorsed candidates – Speth, Gaytan, Anderson, and Olson – in the form of printed literature pieces, direct mail, and digital advertising. “We also have dozens of volunteers who have participated in activities such as phone banking, canvassing, and letter writing,” he said.

It’s up to you!

It’s up to you to be an educated voter, to know if you support or not the goals and mission of these candidates and the various political action committees – from in and out of state. Be sure to return your ballot by Election Day, Nov. 7. Every vote counts.

Editor’s Note: The Greater Park Hill News published an extensive Question and Answer survey covering several key issues with candidates running for seats representing Park Hill. The Q&A is available online here, along with instructions for returning your mail ballot by the Nov. 7 deadline.

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