Billionaire donors give Mike Johnston a big financial boost in Denver mayoral runoff

Advancing Denver collects over $4 million while pro-Kelly Brough group lags behind

By: - May 30, 2023 4:00 am

Left: Denver mayor candidate Kelly Brough receives the endorsement of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance at an event on May 12, 2023. Right: Brough’s runoff opponent, former state Sen. Mike Johnston, receives the endorsement of progressive former mayoral candidates and Democratic state lawmakers in Civic Center Park on May 10, 2023. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

A half-million dollar contribution from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was part of a flood of large donations that has helped former state Sen. Mike Johnston open up a 2-to-1 fundraising lead over opponent Kelly Brough as the Denver mayor’s race enters its final week.

Advancing Denver, an independent expenditure committee supporting Johnston’s run, raised more than $4 million through May 22, according to campaign finance disclosures. Such committees, commonly known as super PACs, are allowed to raise and spend unlimited sums of money from wealthy donors and corporations but are barred from directly coordinating with candidates and their campaigns.

Johnston, a onetime candidate for both governor and U.S. Senate, faces Brough, the longtime head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, in the June 6 mayoral runoff election, after the two rivals emerged from the 16-candidate first round last month.


The pro-Johnston super PAC has relied on many of the same out-of-state billionaire donors who boosted his gubernatorial bid in 2018, including Bloomberg, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and hedge fund managers Steve Mandel and John Arnold. Kent Thiry, the former CEO of Denver-based dialysis giant DaVita, is the group’s largest local donor, while venture capitalist Art Reimers and private equity CEO Eric Resnick have also chipped in with six-figure contributions.

About three-quarters of Advancing Denver’s haul has been spent on TV advertising in support of Johnston, reports filed with the Denver Elections Division show, with the remainder spent on digital ads and mailers.

Johnston and Brough had raised roughly equal amounts in direct contributions to their campaign committees through the end of April, reporting total receipts of $932,060 and $895,612, respectively. Those contributions are limited to a maximum of $500 from individuals. Both candidates have also received large payouts from the city’s new Fair Elections Fund, which provides a 9-to-1 match of contributions up to $50 for candidates who agree to stricter direct donation limits.

But Johnston’s deep-pocketed super PAC support gives him double the financial firepower that Brough can count on ahead of next week’s runoff.

A Better Denver, the independent expenditure committee supporting Brough, has struggled to raise large sums since the April 4 first-round election, adding just $211,650 to the $1 million it had previously raised in February and March.

To date, the group’s top donor during the runoff is Pete Coors, the brewing scion, former Republican nominee for U.S. Senate and prolific donor to conservative causes. Coors gave $50,000 to A Better Denver on April 24. Other top donors to the pro-Brough PAC have included real estate interests like the National Association of Realtors, Colorado Construction Industry Coalition and developer Lloyd Fulenwider.

The Apartment Association of Metro Denver, a landlord group, has made contributions to both candidates. After giving $25,000 to Brough in February, the group followed up with another $10,000 contribution to Brough in late April, and a $10,000 contribution to Johnston a week later.

Ballots for the city’s runoff election were mailed earlier this month. Voters can return their ballot through 24-hour drop boxes or vote in person until 7 p.m. on June 6.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:18 a.m., May 30, 2023 to correct a chart that misidentified a $50,000 contribution as coming from the Colorado Working Families Party. The contribution was made by the Colorado Working Families Fund, an independent expenditure committee affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.


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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.