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Colo. Teacher Union Contributions Are Mounting

Headquarters of Colorado Education Association in Denver

By Todd Engdahl, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO

Political committees affiliated with Colorado teachers’ unions have spent more than $900,000 so far in the 2010 election season.

The bulk of that total is accounted for by the Colorado Education Association’s $600,000 contribution to the campaign against amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101 (see related story).

But union-affiliated committees also have contributed significantly to Democratic candidates and to a group of 527 committees in a year when Democrats are battling to retain control of the legislature.

The Public Education Committee, CEA’s small donor committee, has donated $10,600 to Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickelooper and $10,000 each to Secretary of State Bernie Buescher and state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, both Democrats.

The committee also has given nearly $110,000 to 48 Democratic legislative candidates, plus $5,000 to a party committee that supports House candidates and $3,500 to a similar committee that supports Democratic Senate candidates.

The small donor group AFT Colorado Federation Of Teachers, School, Health And Public Employees Committee has given $10,000 to Hickenlooper, $1,000 to Buescher and $2,000 to Kennedy. The committee has contributed to 43 Democratic legislative candidates plus given $5,000 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund and $4,000 to the House Majority Fund.

Among education-related races this year, the biggest money so far is being spent in the at-large contest for the University of Colorado Board of Regents and in Pueblo County’s House District 47, where a Democratic union leader is battling a Republican construction executive for an open seat.

Melissa HartCU Regent candidate Melissa Hart

In the regent race, Democrat Melissa Hart has raised $70,285. She’s a professor at the CU law school. Republican Steve Bosley, the incumbent and a retired Boulder banker, has raised $38,438.

Hart’s contributors, most of whom have kicked in from $100 to $400, are a who’s who of legal and civic leaders and include former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, Buescher and Kennedy, State Board of Education members Elaine Gantz Berman and Jane Goff, regents Joe Neguse and Michael Carrigan, former regents Sen. Gail Schwartz and Susan Kirk, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, former higher ed chief David Skaggs and lawyer Jim Lyons, who co-chairs the ongoing higher ed strategic planning committee. There are lots of lawyers and several CU faculty members on the contributor list. Hart also has received $1,000 from the CEA small donor committee.

Steve BosleyCU Regent Steve Bosley

Notable Bosley contributors include businessman Barry Hirschfeld, National Western Stock Show head Pat Grant, politically connected lawyer Steven Farber and former GOP U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong.

In the District 47 race, teacher Carole Partin, president of the Pueblo Education Association, is seeking to hold the seat for the Democrats. She’s received $4,250 from the Public Education Committee, $500 from the CFT small donor committee and $3,250 from the Jefferson County Education Association small donor committee. Overall she’s raised $58,219.

Among Republican Keith Swerdferger’s larger contributors are small donor committees in the real estate, construction and insurance industries. He’s raised $82,041.

The CEA’s Public Education Committee has given its largest contributions – the top so far is $4,250 – to Democrats with tough battles on their hands. Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and author of Senate Bill 10-191, hasn’t received any CEA money in what is considered a safely Democratic northeast Denver district. The CEA fought SB 10-191 vigorously in the last legislative session.

But two senators who did vote for the bill, John Morse of Colorado Springs and Pat Steadman of Denver, did receive contributions. No House Democrats who voted for the bill, including Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, have received funds from the CEA committee.

The Public Education Committee also gave $40,000 to 21st Century Colorado, $50,000 to the Colorado Freedom Fund and $100,000 to Accountability for Colorado. The three are 527 committees associated with the coordinated effort of wealthy donors and labor unions that has worked to elect Democrats in recent Colorado elections. (See this 2008 Denver Post story for background on that effort.) The committee also gave $4,015 to Western Values, a 527 connected to the political consulting firm of Welchert and Britz.

One interesting committee donation was of $3,000 to Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs, who’s running for El Paso County commissioner. Merrifield, a retired music teacher, has been a state representative, chair of the House Education Committee and a staunch CEA ally. He’s leaving the statehouse because of term limits.

(See the committee’s Sept. 7 report and its July 7 contributions.)

Rep, Christine ScanlanRep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon

The AFT’s small donor committee gave contributions to 30 Democratic candidates who also received CEA money. But it also gave money to several other Democratic candidates, including Scanlan and SB 10-191 supporters Mark Ferrandino, Jeanne Labuda and Beth McCann of Denver, and Joe Rice of Littleton. The AFT supported the bill during legislative debates.

Given that the AFT’s smaller membership provides less of a fundraising base than the CEA has, most of the contributions were smaller, generally $250 or $500 per candidate.

The committee gave $1,000 to newly appointed Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver and a former Denver school board member. She beat term-limited Rep. Joel Judd in last month’s Democratic primary. Judd had received $2,125 from the CEA-related committee.

The AFT committee also gave $5,000 each to 21st Century Colorado and Accountability for Colorado.

(See AFT legislative and other contributions.)

The only other union-related committee making significant contributions so far is the Jefferson County Education Association Small Donor Committee, which has spent $45,208.

In addition to Partin, the committee has given contributions to nine other Democratic candidates in the metro area. Those receiving the largest contribution – $4,250 each – include Rep. Sara Gagliardi of Arvada in District 27, retired teacher Laura Huerta in House District 30, Gilpin County Commissioner Jeanne Nicholson in Senate District 16 (which stretches into the central mountains), lawyer Chris Radeff in House District 22 and Rep. Max Tyler of Lakewood in District 23.

All contribution and spending numbers were taken from reports on file with the secretary of state’s office. The most recent set of reports was filed Sept. 7. (Search candidate and committee reports here.)

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