Fort Collins city election draws in almost $500,000, including heavy outside spending

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Fort Collins’ 2021 city election has attracted nearly half a million dollars in political contributions and outside spending, more than double the money at play in the 2019 election, campaign finance reports show.

About three-fourths of the campaign contributions and committee spending reported as of March 29 — $355,000 out of $478,000 — went to candidate committees for the 14 people running for five council seats. The top fundraiser is mayoral candidate Jeni Arndt, with $47,026 raised as of March 23. Arndt has raised about $20,000 more than the second-place fundraiser, mayoral candidate Gerry Horak. The top fundraiser among nonmayoral candidates is District 3 candidate Tricia Canonico, with $18,025.

Registered issue committees, which campaign for or against ballot measures, have raised $41,386.

Fort Collins election guide:Get to know the candidates and the issues

And three groups have made independent expenditures in the election totaling $81,863. Independent expenditures are campaign spending carried out independent of candidates. Candidates and their campaign staff can’t coordinate with entities that make independent expenditures on their behalf. 

The majority of the independent expenditures came from the Blueflower Action Independent Expenditure Committee, which has spent about $59,000 on mailers and digital and TV advertisements supporting Arndt.

In state filings, Blueflower Action IE Committee describes its mission as electing “Democratic women candidates who are progressive and pro-choice and who are running for state or local office.” The committee’s state filing of donations and expenditures isn’t due until April 15, so it isn’t yet clear where the money is coming from. Donations for past election cycles have come predominantly from Denver-area and out-of-state philanthropists.  

Blueflower Action IE Committee’s registered agent didn’t return a phone call from the Coloradoan requesting comment on Monday. The committee’s spending is the subject of two election complaints from Fort Collins resident Robbie Moreland, a leader of local campaign finance reform efforts. Moreland wrote in her complaints that the Blueflower committee should’ve registered as a political committee, which would require reporting of donations and and a cap of $100 per contributor, because “their sole purpose is to raise/spend money (accept contributions) for elections.”

Those complaints are under review by an attorney, City Clerk Delynn Coldiron said.

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The other entities reporting independent expenditures in this election are Citizens for a Sustainable Economy, a Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce-associated group that has spent $20,350 on mailers, digital ads and website additions supporting candidates Nick Armstrong and Gavin Kaszynski, and a group of individuals (Rex Miller, Mary Grant and Tamra Meurer) who have spent $2,513 supporting the Hughes Stadium ballot measure. (See here for a separate story on campaign finance related to this ballot measure.)

Fort Collins election code restricts individual candidate contributions to $75 per contributor for a council candidate and $100 per contributor for a mayoral candidate, though an individual or entity may donate to more than one campaign. A recent change to city election code closed a loophole that allowed individuals who are part of multiple LLCs to bypass contribution limits.

Here’s how much each council and mayoral candidate has raised and spent, according to the campaign finance filings due March 23. Contributions include self-funding, loans and in-kind donations:

Mayor

Jeni Arndt: $47,026 raised ($200/0.4% self-funded); $41,943 spent

Gerry Horak: $26,438 raised, including $3,802 rollover from previous campaign ($100/0.4% self-funded); $23,149 spent

Molly Skold: $21,082 raised ($4,532/21.5% self-funded); $12,391 spent

District 1

Nick Armstrong: $11,948 raised ($6,553/54.8% self-funded); $11,786 spent

Susan Gutowsky: $9,533 raised  ($671/7% self-funded); $5,146 spent

District 3

Tricia Canonico: $18,025 raised ($1,000/5.5% self-funded); $11,827 spent

Gavin Kaszynski: $8,220 raised ($1,000/12.2% self-funded); $4,025 spent

District 4

Jessica Dyrdahl: $11,855 raised ($3,524/29.7% self-funded); $11,197 spent

Erin Hottenstein: $11,125 raised ($105/0.9% self-funded); $8,128 spent

Shirley Peel: $8,180 raised ($3,325/40.6% self-funded); $3,649 spent

Melanie Potyondy: $16,369 raised ($192/1.2% self-funded); $10,256 spent

Sidna Rachid: $600 raised ($600/100% self-funded); $302 spent

District 5

Jeff Hansen: $3,235 raised ($1,000/30.9% self-funded); $1,506 spent

Kelly Ohlson: $13,991 raised ($2,300/16.4% self-funded); $12,376 spent

Source:Fort Collins City Clerk’s Office. For a more detailed breakdown of campaign contributions, visit cleanslatenowaction.org and find the race you’re interested in under “Reports.”

Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.