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The role of money in the Douglas County School Board election

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At an Oct. 3 forum held by the League of Women Voters of Arapahoe and Douglas Counties, the eight candidates assured the audience that they were receiving donations from friends, families, teachers, volunteers and colleagues. Several referred to their campaigns as “grassroots.”

Candidates’ finances for the Douglas County School Board election will be made available to the public soon — reports are due on Oct. 17.

Recent history shows ebbs and flows in the amount of money candidates’ campaigns have received.

Fundraising in the nonpartisan race reached a high of nearly $225,000 in 2013, with almost 75 percent of that, $166,000, going to the four reform-minded candidates who would ultimately win. As in the previous two elections, those candidates enjoyed the backing of many area Republican leaders, many of whom donated to their campaigns.

While the reform candidates continued to receive the backing of numerous GOP leaders in 2015, they were seeing less support in the way of money. The total fundraising for the candidates dried up to about $78,000, with more than $64,000 of that being raised by the three challengers who would ultimately win the election: David Ray, Anne-Marie Lemieux and Wendy Vogel.

Candidates’ campaigns are not the only way money plays a role in the election. Groups not affiliated with the campaigns are promoting candidates and issues.

As of now, Douglas County Parents, a political committee registered with the state that backs anti-reform candidates, has raised $20,319 from small contributions.

Another player that has made its mark in Douglas County is Americans for Prosperity — a conservative political advocacy group funded by billionaires David and Charles Koch. In September, the group launched a six-figure campaign, with door hangers, digital and direct mail and political ads, asking residents to sign a petition to “preserve educational freedom,” a media release says.

“We’re calling on parents to sign our petition calling on the Douglas County School Board to ensure that a child’s future shouldn’t be decided by their zip code or family income,” Americans For Prosperity-Colorado state director Jesse Mallory said in the Sept. 12 release.

Tamra Farah, a spokeswoman for the group, said the organization is not supporting any candidates in the Douglas County race. The group typically promotes taking a side on an issue, and door hangers paid for by the group and distributed throughout the county promote school choice — long a rallying cry for reform-minded school board candidates in Douglas County.

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