Denver Mayor's Election Money Race Isn't Even Close

Denver mayoral candidates Kalyn Heffernan, Michael Hancock, Lisa Calderón, Jamie Giellis, Penfield Tate and Chairman Seku (clockwise from upper left).
Denver mayoral candidates Kalyn Heffernan, Michael Hancock, Lisa Calderón, Jamie Giellis, Penfield Tate and Chairman Seku (clockwise from upper left). Campaign photos/YouTube file photo
Voters will determine the competitiveness of the 2019 race for Denver mayor on election day, May 7. But when it comes to raising money, the contest to date is a runaway.

According to statistics through March 31 assembled by Denver-based CleanSlateNow Action, whose goal is to fight "the corrupting influence of big money in politics," current Mayor Michael Hancock has raised around twice as many dollars as the other five hopefuls on the ballot combined, and more than triple the amount collected by his next closest fiscal competitor.

The folks seeking to unseat Hancock include community organizer and educator Lisa Calderón, outspoken citizen Stephan "Chairman Seku" Evans, former RiNo Art District president Jamie Giellis, artist/activist/musician Kalyn Heffernan and ex-state senator and city official Penfield Tate.

CleanSlateNow Action counts five contributions for Evans, totaling $1,845, all of it coming from within Colorado. As for Heffernan, the organization counted 39 contributors to her campaign, with their largesse adding up to $3,919.75 — 88.50 percent of which is listed as in-state. The donations to Evans and Heffernan (who says her latest total is $4.087.75) were made exclusively by actual people rather than organizations or entities, referred to jointly by CleanSlateNow as "non-individuals."

Next comes Calderón, who has assembled $87,305.84. The number of contributions stands at 1,016, breaking down to an average of $85.93. Just over 90 percent of Calderón's cash came from people living in Colorado, while $3,970 was offered up by non-individuals.

Tate's financial picture is a bit more complicated. All together, he's received $243,548.19, the 647 contributions that have flowed into his campaign coffers divides into average chunks of $376.43, and 84.46 percent of his donors are Colorado residents. But his ledger also lists $13,500 from non-individuals, $2,489.14 from sources that wish to remain anonymous and loans of $35,157.65.

The sum for Giellis is considerably larger — $439,746 — and just over half of it (56.05 percent) winds up in the in-state individual contributions pigeonhole. Self-funding contributes $53,000, all but $3,000 of which is categorized as a loan. Moreover, CleanSlateNow Action groups plenty of Giellis's simoleons under the heading "Special Interest Contributions."

Limited liability companies have been especially generous to Giellis. For instance, Streamline Design LLC, Upper Larimer Market LLC, 2620 Walnut Street LLC, East 38th Avenue Properties LLC, 860 Broadway LLC, Okami LLC, Wolf Investments LLC, York Street Venue LLC and more all offered up $3,000, and a lot of others ponied up $1,000.

Hancock, though, is in a league of his own; his pile totals $1,745,902.41. Just over 66 percent of the amount he's raised was ponied up by individuals, most of them from inside Colorado. But non-individuals gifted $462,447, and the inventory of donations is wide and varied.

Represented are financial institutions (Citywide Banks and Commerce Bank each gave $1,000), law firms (loads of them, including Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher LLP and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which gave $1,000 apiece), unions or affiliates (he got $1,000 from Pipefitters Local No. 208/Political Education Committee Fund), and businesses known locally (the CofTea Shop parted with $480) and nationally (Walmart invested $3,000).

Of course, having a fatter wallet than any of his challengers doesn't guarantee Hancock a victory in anything other than yard signs and prime TV time — a point Calderón underscores in a comment shared with Westword about Referred Measure 2E, which was approved by voters in 2018 but doesn't go into effect until next year (and will impact the mayor's face for the first time in 2023). The so-called "Democracy for the People" measure will limit mayoral-contest donations to $1,000, ban corporate donations, and enable a public-financing program.

"The huge number of special-interest dollars in this election clearly demonstrates the need for the ‘Democracy for the People initiative’ that passed last November," Calderón writes via email. "Denver voters have spoken: They do not want politicians who are bought and paid for by corporations. It’s absurd that developers and special interests think they can buy this race one last time. It’s time for fairness in politics at all levels, including in this election."

This post has been updated with CleanSlateNow Action statistics through March 31 and a comment from candidate Lisa Calderón about Referred Measure 2E.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts