A view of the U.S. Capitol on March 25, 2022. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
By one measure, Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer has run a lean campaign for Colorado’s newly created 8th Congressional District. Her campaign committee’s $1.1 million in reported expenditures is even less than the amount U.S. Rep. Ken Buck has spent to defend a safe seat in the heavily Republican 4th District.
But the real financial firepower behind Kirkmeyer’s bid comes from a network of Republican super PACs funded by some of the country’s wealthiest people and corporations, as well as “dark money” nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors.
Altogether, the groups have spent more than $10 million on the race, exceeding what Kirkmeyer’s own campaign committee — which is bound by contribution limits and disclosure rules — has been able to spend by an unprecedented ninefold increase.
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The list of groups backing Kirkmeyer is topped by the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has spent $5.6 million in the 8th District this year. That’s the largest amount ever spent by a super PAC on behalf of a U.S. House candidate in Colorado, topping the $4.8 million the National Republican Congressional Committee spent in support of former Rep. Mike Coffman in 2016, according to a Newsline analysis.
As a super PAC, the CLF can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and dark-money groups, also known as 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Nearly 90% of the group’s funding in the 2022 election cycle has come from entities contributing at least $100,000, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. The group’s top donors include the American Action Network, a dark-money group; influential right-wing billionaires like Charles Koch, Paul Singer, Charles Schwab and Timothy Mellon; and fossil fuel interests like Chevron and Occidental Petroleum, Colorado’s two largest oil producers.
Kirkmeyer, a longtime fixture in Weld County politics, has denied the scientific consensus on climate change and repeatedly spread misinformation about the impact of an oil and gas reform law passed by Colorado Democrats in 2019. The 8th District includes the northern Denver suburbs and extends into Greeley.
Other deep-pocketed GOP groups backing Kirkmeyer's bid include the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has spent nearly $3 million on her behalf, and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, which has spent a total of more than $1.1 million in support of both her primary and general election campaigns.
Kirkmeyer's latest campaign ad, centered on the false claim that her opponent, Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton, and fellow Colorado Democrats "legalized fentanyl," has drawn criticism and calls from progressive groups for Colorado TV stations to pull the ad from broadcast.
The $10 million Republican super PACs have spent backing Kirkmeyer is nearly double what Democratic-affiliated groups have spent in support of Caraveo. Groups backing Caraveo's bid include the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC, a group linked to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Top donors to the DCCC include a PAC associated with small-donor fundraising site ActBlue and dozens of fundraising committees linked to prominent Democratic House members, FEC records show. Funding for the House Majority PAC comes from a wide range of labor unions, the dark-money group House Majority Forward and a long list of wealthy donors that includes Fred Eychaner, Samuel Bankman-Fried and Reid Hoffman.
Top House races
As Election Day nears, total spending on the Kirkmeyer-Caraveo race is on track to surpass $20 million, making it the most expensive House race in Colorado since a $25 million contest between Coffman and Democratic Rep. Jason Crow in the 6th District in 2018.
The 8th District spending is nearly double what's been spent on Colorado's second most expensive 2022 House race, the 3rd District contest between far-right Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert and Democratic challenger Adam Frisch. And it's more than four times the total spent in the 7th District, where state Sen. Brittany Pettersen faces rookie GOP candidate Erik Aadland in her bid to keep the seat of retiring Rep. Ed Perlmutter in Democratic hands.
In all, $34 million in campaign and outside spending has been reported in Colorado's top three House races.
The $6.3 million raised by Boebert's reelection campaign remains by far the highest total of any Colorado U.S. House candidate in the 2022 election cycle, and roughly half of it has come from small-dollar donors giving less than $200. Frisch, meanwhile, has raised the most of any Democratic House candidate, and narrowed the gap significantly by outraising Boebert in the third quarter, also thanks to a high percentage of small-dollar donations.
The 3rd District race, however, has attracted little super PAC spending. Colorado United, a newly registered group, reported $235,000 of expenditures in opposition to Boebert in October. FEC records show the group's top donor is Colorado philanthropist and Alliance Center founder John Powers, who contributed $175,000. Boebert has been the beneficiary of about $386,000 in spending by the conservative House Freedom Fund in 2021 and 2022. The 3rd District encompasses the Western Slope and the southwest corner of the state, sweeping east to include Pueblo, Otero and Las Animas counties.
Pettersen's $2.2 million in campaign fundraising to date is nearly double the haul reported by Aadland, who was previously a candidate for U.S. Senate but jumped into the 7th District race after Perlmutter announced his retirement. Pettersen has also received support from the House Majority PAC and Fair Share Action, a PAC linked to advocacy group Environment America and Colorado-based liberal donor Tim Gill.
Aadland's top super PAC supporter is For Colorado's Future, which has reported spending more than $526,000 supporting him in both the primary and general elections. FEC disclosures show venture capitalist Jonathan Sawyer as the group's top donor with $110,000 in contributions, but the group has come under scrutiny for expenditures in excess of its reported receipts.
The 7th District includes Denver’s western suburbs and extends into Jefferson, Park, Lake, Chaffee, Teller, Fremont and Custer counties.
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