Dark money group with ties to Walker Stapleton’s gubernatorial bid drops $400,000 in Aurora City Council race

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AURORA | Five Aurora City Council candidates got a substantial financial boost in support from a dark money group in the final weeks leading up to Election Day, according to recent campaign finance records. 

The group, called Neighbors for Aurora, received a total of $400,000 from the Colorado Taxpayers Advocate Fund. The bulk of those funds were spent on direct mail for candidates. At-large candidates Johnny Watson, a sitting councilman, received  $66,570. Curtis Gardner also received upwards of $66,500, according to this report. In the previous report, due 30 days before the election, the group spent another $4,850 on Gardner.

In all, the group spent $18,601 on Ward VI incumbent Francoise Bergan, $25,618 on Ward V incumbent Bob Roth and $14,468 on and Ward V incumbent Charlie Richardson.

While the city council races are non-partisan, party politics and money have traditionally been an influence in the races for both Democrats and Republicans. Of the candidates backed by the Colorado Taxpayers Advocated Fund, all are Republicans except for Richardson, who dropped his Republican Party affiliation a few years ago, according to the candidates and county voting records.

The group also spent $125,000 on canvassing, according to the report filed to the city on Tuesday. 

It’s not clear who or what entities fund the Colorado Taxpayers Advocate Fund. A website for the 501(c)4, which doesn’t have to disclose its donors, says the purpose of the group is to ”educate citizens and Colorado public officials on issues of public policy so they can, if they choose, make a difference in their community on issues affecting their city, state, and even their country at large.”

The organization’s website says it will also “advocate, and help the general public advocate, center-right policy solutions designed to help the citizens of Colorado.”

According to state campaign finance records, the Colorado Taxpayers Advocate fund has only donated money to state-level campaigns associated with Walker Stapleton‘s bid for governor. It contributed $1.25 million in 2018 to a committee, called Better Colorado Now, to elect Stapleton.

Then, more than $28,000 was donated this January, after the election, according to state data.

In 2014, the organization also donated $40,000 to another group, called Colorado for Fiscal Responsibility, also for Stapleton’s election bid. 

Candidates and committees will have to submit one more report before Election Day and then another 30 days after the election.