Interest money

New analysis shows how Denver election is dominated by special interest money

Data: Denver Elections Division, research Axios Denver; Graphic: Sara Wise/Axios

Costly campaign battles and super donors have contributed more than $32 million over the past decade to Denver candidates and campaigns, according to an Axios Denver analysis, the first of its kind.

What we found: Major donors are interest groups and corporations with huge financial stakes in the election results and the money pouring into city politics has reached new heights in the 2021 municipal elections.

  • The Denver Scholarship Foundation became the top donor, spending about $766,000 in two elections on initiatives that raised taxes to cover college scholarships for students residing in Denver.
  • Half of the top 10 donors targeted the last election, with most spending heavily to promote the development of the National Western Center and the Park Hill golf course.

What we have done: Ideas are drawn from a new online database of more than 50,000 contributions made public Thursday by the Denver Clerk’s Office.

  • Analysis of political donations through 2012 has revealed new details about who seeks to influence city policies and spending billions.

By the numbers: 44 organizations and individuals have given at least $100,000 over the past decade, according to our analysis, and about double that have given at least $50,000.

  • Promoters, corporate promoters and unions pumped the most money into the campaigns.
  • The donation total is even higher when you consider that applicants are governed by strict limits of $1,000 or less. Ballot metrics can take unlimited cash and therefore attract the largest donations.

Enlarge: Five people have given at least $100,000 to campaigns over the past decade, well above the median contribution of $100, according to our preliminary analysis.

  • J. Landis Martin ($303,000): The Republican CEO and founder of Platte River Equity who backed Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2021 bond package, opposed the repeal of the city’s camping ban and backed a Measurement of the 2018 ballot for a college scholarship fund.
  • Ronald Williams ($244,000): The Denver entrepreneur and former chairman of the National Western Stock Show has backed a dedicated show tax and bond package for new construction.
  • Michael Bloomberg ($150,000): The billionaire former New York City mayor and former presidential candidate backed a sales tax hike for college scholarships in 2015.
  • Pat Stryker ($141,000): This Fort Collins resident is the heiress of medical device maker Stryker Corp who sent most of her donation to a campaign for the National Western Center
  • Stacy Schusterman ($100,000): Philanthropist and president of the Samson Energy Company, an oil and gas company operating in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. She supported a sales tax for college scholarships.

To note : Many have also contributed huge sums through their companies, which are not included in these totals.

  • And name discrepancies in the database may leave out other donations.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter and faster on the biggest news happening in their own backyards. Subscribe here.