State lawmakers, lobbyists among top donors in Denver mayor’s race

Brough takes commanding fundraising lead as deep-pocketed super PACs begin spending

By: - March 9, 2023 4:00 am

A view looking west of the Denver skyline on Sept. 23, 2021. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough and her supporters are tapping a deep-pocketed, well-connected network of political insiders and business leaders to stay well ahead of the pack in Denver mayor’s race fundraising.

Candidates in the 17-way contest to succeed three-term Mayor Michael Hancock filed another round of campaign finance disclosures this week, covering their receipts and expenditures through the end of February.

The latest filings show Brough taking a commanding fundraising lead over her rivals ahead of Denver’s April 4 municipal election, thanks in large part to donors from around the city and state giving the allowed maximum of $500 to her campaign. After serving as then-Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2009, Brough led the Denver area’s top business lobbying organization for 12 years before announcing her run for mayor last August.


Over two-thirds of the $617,372 Brough raised through Feb. 28 came from donors giving the $500 maximum. Just 2% came from donors giving $50 or less, the lowest percentage by far of any top candidate — but Brough has also received the largest total payout from the city’s new Fair Elections Fund, at over $530,000. Donors contributing at any level up to $500 can elect to have the first $50 of their contribution matched at a 9-to-1 ratio by the Fair Elections Fund, which was approved by city voters in 2018.

Former state Sen. Mike Johnston is Brough’s nearest fundraising rival, having collected $475,205 in direct contributions and $253,035 in Fair Elections Fund disbursements.

Both Brough and Johnston have also started to receive substantial support from independent expenditure committees, better known as super PACs, which can receive unlimited contributions from corporations, nonprofits and wealthy donors.

A Better Denver, a group supporting Brough, has received over $578,000 in contributions since registering with election officials last month. Most of that total comes from major players in the real-estate development industry, including the National Association of Realtors, Denver developer Lloyd Fulenwider, the Colorado Construction Industry Coalition and the Apartment Association of Metro Denver.

The group Advancing Denver, which is backing Johnston, has received $380,000 so far. Its top donor is Kent Thiry, former CEO of Denver-based dialysis company DaVita and a frequent bankroller of centrist political causes in Colorado. Under Thiry’s leadership, DaVita agreed to pay a total of $800 million in two settlement agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations of illegal kickbacks and billing practices.

Lawmakers, lobbyists spread donations around

Polling shows the race to replace Hancock, who is term-limited after 12 years in office, is wide open, with a majority of Denver voters still undecided. With several current and former state lawmakers vying for an office that has served more than one former occupant as a springboard into national politics, a long list of statehouse figures are writing checks in support of one or more candidates.

State Rep. Leslie Herod, who represents Denver’s House District 8 in the Legislature, has received donations from well over a dozen of her fellow Democratic lawmakers, including state Reps. Javier Mabrey and Jennifer Bacon of Denver, as well as state Sens. James Coleman, Tom Sullivan, Rhonda Fields and Janet Buckner.

Mabrey and Bacon have also contributed to Lisa Calderón, a progressive activist and criminal justice professor who placed third in the 2019 mayor’s race, and to environmental activist Ean Thomas Tafoya. Both Calderón and Tafoya have received contributions from first-year state Rep. Elisabeth Epps.

State Sen. Chris Hansen, who represents Denver’s Senate District 31, has received donations from state Sens. Kevin Priola, Kyle Mullica and Jeff Bridges.

In addition to state legislators, some of the biggest and most frequent individual donors in the mayor’s race have been lobbyists.

Brough leads the field after having received donations from at least 23 people associated with Denver-based Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, one of the country’s top corporate lobbying firms, along with dozens of employees of other law and lobbying giants like Sherman and Howard, Davis Graham and Stubbs, and Otten Johnson Robinson Neff.

Many of Denver’s top lobbyists and political insiders have spread their contributions out over multiple candidates. Brownstein Hyatt founding partner Norm Brownstein has contributed the $500 maximum to five candidates: Brough, Johnston, Herod, Hansen and City Council member-at-large Debbie Ortega. Roger Sherman, a lobbyist with CRL Associates, has backed eight different contenders.

Ballots in the April 4 election will be mailed to Denver voters next week. It appears all but certain that no candidate in the mayor’s race will win an outright majority of votes in the first round, meaning the top two vote-getters will proceed to a head-to-head runoff election scheduled for June 6.


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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Chase Woodruff is a senior reporter for Colorado Newsline. His beats include the environment, money in politics, and the economy.