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Despite Denver’s new campaign finance rules, outside money may have won the race

The Fair Elections Fund opened up the race, but the two top fundraisers appear to be heading into run off
Posted at 5:39 PM, Apr 05, 2023

DENVER — All of the votes haven’t been counted yet in Denver’s election for mayor. But so far, the two candidates who brought in the most money are leading the race.

Mike Johnston, a former state senator, and Kelly Brough, a former CEO of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, will likely go head-to-head in a runoff election on June 6.

This election was Denver’s first since creating a new campaign finance system. The Fair Elections Fund is meant to level the playing field by restricting donations to smaller amounts, with a maximum of $500. Any donations less than $50 also get a match of 9 times as much in taxpayer funds.

MORE | Live updates: 2023 Denver municipal election

In total, Denver’s 16 mayoral candidates brought in more than $6.6 million for their campaigns. At least $2.5 million of that came from the fund.

The two frontrunners, Johnston and Brough, brought in far more money than any of their 14 opponents – much of it from outside groups, which accounted for more than half of the total funds raised, $3.5 million. That is 6 times more than outside groups spent in the last mayor’s race in 2019.

The Super PAC Advancing Denver spent the most: $2.3 million to support Johnston. More than $900,000 of that outside support came from Reid Hoffman, a venture capitalist who cofounded LinkedIn.

Despite Denver’s new campaign finance rules, outside money may have won the race

Kelly Brough also had outside support totaling almost $1 million from a group called A Better Denver.

The results rolling in raise questions about whether the fund is working as intended. While the top two vote recipients had the most campaign support, there isn't a clear trend between money and votes.

The candidate currently in third place, Lisa Calderón, created a strong base of voters despite raising just under $300,000 – seventh overall in campaign finances.

And Leslie Herod, who was third in overall fundraising, currently sits in fifth place.

Stay up-to-date by refreshing this live blog and watch election coverage on the Denver7+ app, Denver7 and Denver7 on Local3.

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