Denver’s Fair Election Fund hasn’t leveled the playing field so much as it’s given candidates who are financially well-connected a leg up on the competition — and at taxpayer’s expense.

The top three candidates in fundraising who are benefiting the most from public funding are also getting the added hidden benefit of independent expenditures from their deep-pocket supporters that totaled $800,000 this week.

We’re not saying some candidates raked in the $50 or less contributions to gain matching taxpayer funds, while winking at their rich supporters to hold off contributions and instead dump buckets of money on through independent expenditure advertising buys.

We’re just saying that’s how it is playing out.

The system is being gamed.

Kelly Brough, a former politician who served as chief of staff to then-Denver Mayor Hickenlooper is leading the pack of 17 candidates in fundraising, followed by State Rep. Leslie Herod and former state Sen. Mike Johnston.

Andy Rougeot actually ranks third in money raised, but he’s not taking taxpayer dollars because he’s a Republican and Republicans don’t believe in wasting your money.

For that principled stand, Rougeot was excluded from the 9News debate, which is just one more way the Fair Election Fund is unintentionally rigging the system.

More than $1.2 million in taxpayer dollars went to the campaigns of three politicians who already have some level of name identification, plus the $800,000 from independent expenditures that don’t have to disclose their source of money.

Top Four Denver Mayor Candidates in Fundraising


Total Funding


Fair Elections Fund Disbursements




Independent Expenditure: A Better Denver



Total Funding


Fair Elections Fund Disbursements




Independent Expenditure: Ready Denver



Total Raised



Total Funding


Fair Elections Fund Disbursements




Independent Expenditure: Advancing Denver


Denverite reports that Instead of driving Big Money out of local politics, the Fair Election Fund has just made it more difficult to find out who and what industries are backing city candidates with unlimited funding through independent expenditures.

Not surprising, it’s these same candidates who already had an advantage over the proverbial little guys who are benefiting from the loophole.

Denverite did some digging and tracked “Ready Denver Fund” to registered agent Scott Martinez, a former city attorney under Mayor Hancock, but he refused to disclose who funded the $120,000 in ads for Herod.

Financial supporters of the independent expenditures benefiting Johnson and Brough did disclose contributors.

Advancing Denver for Johnston included $150,000 from Kent Thiry, former CEO of Davita, and $117,450 from hedge fund manager Steve Mandel of Lone Pine Capital. Denverite also notes Johnston is getting most of his $114,624 donations from out-of-state contributors.

Developers and the construction industry are backing Brough through A Better Denver, which includes $50,000 from developer Cal Fulenwider whose work can be seen along thousands of acres surrounding DIA.

“That is a lot of money going into this. That is a disturbing amount of money,” James Mejía, a political observer and a 2011 mayoral candidate, said.

Offering taxpayer dollars to candidates who promise not to take funding from corporations or Political Action Committees amounts to a hill of beans when that backdoor is swinging with bags of unlimited cash from the same individuals who can donate to PACs or contribute money from their companies.

An Independent expenditure is guaranteed free speech and can’t be denied to any candidate, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

But in Denver’s case with the Fair Election Fund, it serves to steal money from taxpayers.