Mike Johnston has now brought in more direct campaign contributions than Kelly Brough as the two most well-monied candidates in the first round of the Denver mayor’s race face off in the runoff stage of the election.
The Brough and Johnston campaigns filed reports this week covering their fundraising from March 30 through April 30.
Brough, the top fundraiser in the field of 16 candidates in the primary election, brought in $228,761 during the first month of the runoff. She also recorded $800 in in-kind contributions and $10,255 in refunds.
Johnston, meanwhile, raised $283,482, per his campaign’s report. He received $1,253 in in-kind contributions and refunded $18,465.
That roughly $55,000 advantage in April fundraising was enough to push Johnston ahead of Brough when it came to total campaign contributions so far during the city’s 2023 election cycle. He has now reported $932,060 to Brough’s $895,612.
Brough’s campaign spent $177,176 during the month, and Johnston’s spent $153,966.
Direct contributions are only part of the campaign finance story in Denver, and Brough still had more cash on hand than Johnston going into the final month of the runoff. Her report this week listed her closing balance as $416,271, versus a $377,719 balance on his sheet.
Brough and Johnston started May with modest war chests that may limit how much they can spend on TV ads as the June 6 runoff election approaches. Depending on their fundraising in the first half of May, it’s unlikely that either can afford to blanket TV stations with ads at the level they did in late March and early April — at one point, each spent more than $200,000 on a single week of ad time.
A key driver in their totals is the city’s Fair Elections Fund program. Brough raised more than $1.4 million in the first round of the race when including the $750,000 in disbursements she received from that taxpayer-funded program. She was the only mayoral candidate to max out her payout from that program, which matched qualifying small donations from Denver residents on a 9-to-1 basis.
Maxing out her matching dollars from that fund in Round 1 entitled her to another $187,500 in the runoff, 25% of what she collected in the primary election. That total was reflected in the report Brough’s finance report filed Wednesday.
Johnston, meanwhile, raised roughly $1.3 million in the first round, including $613,539 from the Fair Elections Fund. That earned him a $153,385 runoff distribution, also recorded on his most recent report.
Both Brough and Johnston benefitted from substantial dark money spending on their behalves in the first round of the race.
The independent expenditure committee backing Johnston blew away the field in the category. As of Wednesday, the committee backing him had spent more than $2.2 million on the race. That’s more than twice as much as the committee backing Brough, which has spent just shy of $1.1 million so far.
Brough got into the race much earlier than Johnston, announcing her run in August. He announced in November. He has since made up significant ground in fundraising and came in first in the primary election with 24.5% of the vote to Brough’s 20%.
There was some skepticism among political analysts he would be able to sustain that burst through the runoff. Due to lower contribution limits on Fair Election Fund candidates — $500 for mayoral campaigns — both Brough and Johnston are tasked with finding batches of new donors or going back to people who gave them some money in the first round, but who haven’t hit the $500 limit, to see if they would like to give again.
So far in the runoff, Johnston is having more success in that regard than Brough.
Ballots will be mailed out for the runoff starting May 15, according to the Denver Elections Division. Voting will close at 7 p.m. on June 6.
This story was first published by The Denver Post, a BusinessDen news partner.