Network of education reformers continue to help shape governor’s race in Colorado

National donors included Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix and a charter school supporter, and Michelle Yee, an education researcher and wife of the co-founder of LinkedIn.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston's children listen to him announce his gubernatorial bid. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)
Former state Sen. Michael Johnston's children listen to him announce his gubernatorial bid. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)
Former state Sen. Michael Johnston’s children listen to him announce his gubernatorial bid. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)

By Nicholas GarciaChalkbeat

Education-oriented donors continued to play an outsized role in the latest fundraising round of a governor’s race where all leading Democratic candidates have strong connections to Colorado schools.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston, a Denver Democrat and a national figure in the education reform community, added another $301,000 to his campaign between April 1 and June 30, new records show. More than $200,000 came from outside of Colorado.

National donors included Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix and a charter school supporter, and Michelle Yee, an education researcher and wife of the co-founder of LinkedIn. Both have a history of giving to education reform candidates and causes in Colorado.

Locally, civic leader and mega-donor Daniel Ritchie also gave to Johnston.

Johnston, who grew his war chest substantially in the last round by tapping his wide network of supporters across the country, has raised nearly $1 million since January.

But the Democrat who raised the most during the last quarter, according to reports filed Monday, was Cary Kennedy, the author of a 2000 state constitutional amendment mandating that Colorado annually increase spending on schools.

Kennedy, a former state treasurer, raised nearly $340,000 between April 1 and June 30. This puts her in a much stronger position to compete than some insiders originally thought.

Johnston’s continued nationwide support and Kennedy’s early fundraising success faced strong competition from the personal wealth of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a multi-millionaire who has helped start charter schools and once chaired the State Board of Education.

He reported $274,155 in donations, including $250,000 that he donated to himself.

Colorado has strict limits on campaign donations, which favor wealthy individuals who can self-fund a campaign.

The competitive race has already seen one dropout, U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter. The Jefferson County Democrat was the supposed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. But he dropped out of the race earlier this month.

Noel Ginsburg, a Denver businessman who leads a nonprofit focused on apprenticeships, reported $92,792 in new contributions.

Political observers predict the race to succeed Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, will be the most expensive in history. And with unaffiliated voters making up a third of the state’s electorate, both parties see paths to claim the governor’s mansion.

The Republican field is still forming but so far features District Attorney George Brauchler, former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell, and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s nephew Doug Robinson.

Robinson raised the most during the fundraising quarter: $207,532. Brauchler reported raising $183,398. And Mitchell raised a little more than $15,000.

But Mitchell has more cash on hand than any other candidate — Democrat or Republican — after loaning his campaign $3 million.

Each Republican candidate has named education as a top issue. However, the Republicans have less pronounced ties to the state’s public schools.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.