While it may be common to see dark money spending in big national races, it is concerning to see it trickle down to city council races that are supposed to be nonpartisan, said Shelly Roehrs, president of the League of Women Voters of the Pikes Peak Region. Voters want to see transparency in their local elections, but rules would need to change on a federal level for real reform to happen, she said. Similar groups have spent about $1 billion on political advertising nationally since 2010 without disclosing their donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. When the source of the funds is not disclosed it is called “dark money” in politics, according to the center.
“We have gotten to a very dark place with dark money,” she said. Cole’s company, Cole Communications, was paid by Springs Opportunity Fund for the campaign work. The Springs Opportunity Fund received all its money from Colorado Dawn, whose donors are unknown.
All politicians are exposed to the spending of outside groups unaffiliated with a particular candidate, he said. “We wanted candidates that understood the plight of local business in the pandemic and the importance of reopening business,” Cole said. The fund was also interested in candidates that would be accessible and open to new ideas, he said. He described the fund as nonpartisan.
Rather the three candidates were selected based on their public statements and resumes, Cole said, because legally the group that received the donations from Colorado Dawn, the Springs Opportunity Fund, cannot coordinate with candidates. Cole said he has never met Donelson or Helms. Republican Daniel Cole ran the campaigns on behalf of the three candidates and never interviewed any of them as part of a selection process for support, he said.
Donelson, Helms and Fabian all ran on ideas associated with the Republican Party, such as support for small business and law enforcement. But so did some of their opponents. The Springs Opportunity Fund, Colorado Dawn and Republican Senate Majority Fund all share the same address. Cole also heads the senate fund and has been active in previous council races.
Donelson did not accept any direct money from political action groups or developers, he said. “I don’t think it decided the election,” he said. Donelson, who represents District 1, said he didn’t find out about the spending until he was alerted by a friend who received a flyer or a text message that his campaign didn’t send out. The work of the outside group would have bothered him if they had represented something he didn’t agree with. But they were just amplifying his message, he said.
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